Negotiation Strategies, Planning for Negotiations June 7, 2010

Can you negotiate by proxy?

A proxy is a stand in, someone who is representing you. In the legal world, a proxy can make binding decisions on your behalf (for instance, a health care proxy allows the person you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf).

Can you or should you negotiate by proxy or with someone acting as a proxy?

In many diplomatic or political negotiations, negotiation by proxy is necessary, especially when there is active conflict or extreme disagreement. A few months ago, we reviewed the movie Endgame. Endgame dealt with the secret negotiations between the ANC and South Africa’s white government to end apartheid. The South African government negotiated by proxy with the ANC. It was unimaginable that the white government would negotiate face-to-face, openly with the ANC. In a more current example, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are involved in “proximity talks,” which are indirect peace negotiations. George Mitchell, the Middle East envoy, is acting as a go-between.

If the proxy is empowered to make decisions, and is representing those interests, there should be no issues. If you are authorizing someone to negotiate on your behalf (and we do this when we hire lawyers to represent us in court), you are also giving them the power to make and enforce decisions.

You can only negotiate by proxy if the proxy is truly authorized to act on your behalf, and any decisions the proxy reaches with another party are binding. However, sometimes a proxy is used as a tactic by one party to delay reaching agreement. In this case, the proxy is not authorized to make binding decisions.

Have you ever negotiated by proxy? Was the agreement reached satisfactory to both sides?

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