Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Food for Thought: Pick Your Negotiator

Your company has a firm policy against illegal discrimination. You have personally made it clear to your division that you will not tolerate it.

You have to choose a team to represent the company in some business negotiations with a foreign corporation. You know that the culture of the other country places women in subordinate positions. Samantha is your best negotiator. She knows the deal, the product, and the competition inside-out. Charles is next best, but he is far behind Samantha in knowledge, expertise, and experience.

You are worried that if Samantha leads the team, you might not land the deal and it will be solely because of bias. Leading a successful negotiation team will be a major professional boost.

Which person do you pick? Samantha or Charles?


Rowan Manahan said...

Depends to some degree on the culture of the country - clearly if they flat-out won't deal with Samantha, or if they insist that she wears a head-to-toe Burka, she may not be the optimal person to use.

But for the majority of cases, I would use Samantha. I'd have her very well briefed on local societal morés and on any nerve endings or behaviours to avoid; but overall, you've got to have your best person in the room. Plus if the other side are underestimating her in any way, that has got to be to our advantage.

I don't notice Condi Rice having to absent herself from any meetings since her appointment ...

Anonymous said...

Samantha. If the other side doesn't want to play ball because she is a woman, you shouldn't do business with them anyway. It's like not doing business with for example companies who use child labour. You just take your business elsewhere and eventually they will change.

pawnking said...

I am a pragmatist. I would choose Charles.

The way I see it, I want to put my company in a position to succeed. Not to consider what a person brings to or takes away from a negotiation aside from their inherent skill is damaging to a company’s chance of success. I am not trying to make a political statement, I am trying to win a contract. If I think Samantha would most likely succeed despite her being a woman, I would choose her. If I think Charles would most likely succeed despite his lack of knowledge and experience, I would choose him.

Similarly, if I knew a client to be a big football fan, and I had a negotiator on my team who played for a year or two in the NFL, I would have to consider that in addition to his inherent skills when choosing who should represent my company.

Of course, if I thought there was a danger that Samantha or someone else would give my company a big PR or legal problem with my decision to bypass her due to her gender, I’d have to consider that in my analysis, too.

Michael Wade said...

Thanks to all for the good and thoughtful comments. I would pick Samantha because she's the best qualified, I wouldn't want a gap between policy and practice, and I see certain types of discrimination, such as race and sex, as being more offensive than discrimination based on other factors, such as sports team preference. Another factor to consider: The long term effect. Over time, you want the other culture to get used to the fact that they will have to deal with women as equals at the negotiation table. The downside? You might not get the contract but then you might not get contracts if the other side is prejudiced against blacks and your chief negotiator is black. You have to draw the line.

Jeff said...

Have to disagree Michael. You can make them face their prejudice but more difficult to ask them to turn their backs on their culture.

Possible solution if you insist on Samantha - let the company know that Samantha will be the lead in the negotiations and ask if they have a problem with that. If they do, then politely turn down the opportunity. If they really want to do business with you, they'll find a way to deal with Samantha.

If they do have a problem and you choose a male negotiator to get around the cultural issue, then you'll have continuing problems down the line with this company if you win the contract. Maye it's business you don't want.