Negotiations between two parties offer real challenges. When negotiating with multiple parties the complexities increase exponentially. Fault lines can also develop based on gender, race, age, religion, national origin, family status, educational level or other areas. How can these be addressed in a negotiation or mediation?

I want to first share with you some insights relating to multiple parties and volunteer mediation before proceeding into negotiations to help set the stage. Having been a volunteer mediator in community issues, public housing, and other similar venues, I found having a female mediator with me that is of a different race made a real difference for working towards a resolution. If multiple languages were involved having translators that could address participants needs was critical. It was also critical to look at the party that was speaking not only while that person was speaking, but also while the translator was interpreting was essential. There is a natural tendency to look at the translator while the translator is speaking. This should be avoided. Your body language and facial expressions should indicate empathy and understanding appropriate to what is being translated while looking at the source speaker.

Similarly, when involved in business mediations or negotiations with multiple parties, I have found that coalitions and alliances can shift relative to the interests of the participants. On some issues there may be no interest, on others some interest and on still others a strong interest by a participant or participants with fluid alliances and coalitions during the process. Given multiple issues the participants may find themselves on the same side with other participants on some issues and on the opposite side on other issues. A fluid system of changing coalitions and alliances can make for a very interesting mediation or negotiation.

I have seen this to be the case with certain family owned business when disputes have arisen. This has been confirmed with other sources as well. When shareholder disputes, board of director issues, selling of the business, and other similar issues have arisen there can be generational differences, family preferences, historical family issues and other intangible issues that can weigh heavily into the discussion. These can be dysfunctional in nature.

Research by Katerina Bezrukova formerly of the University of California at Santa Clara and now at Rutgers has shown with a study of quantitative data on 138 teams from a Fortune 500 company that

“though informational faultlines were detrimental for group performance, the negative relationship between faultlines and performance was reversed when cultures with a strong emphasis on results were aligned, was lessened when cultures with a weak emphasis on results were aligned, and remained negative when cultures were misaligned with respect to their results orientation. These findings show the importance of recognizing alignments not only within groups (group faultlines) but also outside groups (cultural alignments between the group and departments) when considering their implications for group performance. “

This would indicate that when rational economic decision making governed the group with an emphasis on results, fault lines had less of an impact. The importance of this information relative to a multiparty negotiation or mediation is to understand that these do exist, may develop during the process of a negotiation or mediation and that these alignments or coalitions may change during the process. Knowing this, it is a good idea to explore interests and assumptions prior to the process beginning and to consider what realignments or coalitions may develop during the process.  Participants are ahead of the game if they have prepared to address these realignments as they develop.

My experience with family owned businesses has taught me to always expect the unexpected.  Historical events from which I as a mediator or negotiator had no idea, can play a major role in the unfolding process. The sooner these can be identified and encouraged to be voiced by the participants the greater likelihood of resolving the issues. A common technique by a mediator when tensions are high is to ask the party that brought up the personal concern to “tell me more.” Often this may be during a period of escalation, but shortly after airing the concern, tensions are often reduced and it is quite possible to focus on the issue(s) rationally.

The commentary presented here offers some insights related to fault lines, coalitions, alignments and the triggers that may impact escalation relative to a negotiation or mediation. Preparing for the unexpected, considering how coalitions or alignments may change during a mediation or negotiation process can make a real difference. When dysfunctional, irrational or misaligned commentary is introduced the party raising the issue should be encouraged to voice their concern so that the concern can be raised and all the parties can return to focusing on the issues in a rational manner.  This can lead to resolution.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link.  On point resources are available online at and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at or call (651) 633-5311. 

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]