Negotiation Tactic #43 – Find Us an Umpire

Summary: Getting an unbiased third party to mediate a negotiation.

When two counterparts do not have a history of working well together, using an intermediary, or “umpire,” to facilitate the negotiation can sometimes prove helpful. In this case, a third party who has had previous positive relationships with both counterparts enters the picture.


Two corporate presidents know it is in the best interests of both their companies to merge. In fact, they know that if they continue on the present course, they will both eventually be leading unprofitable companies. The problem is that they have met twice before to negotiate a merger. Since each of them has an ego the size of King Kong, they have left the table without a deal each time, and their relationship has ended up even more strained. A vendor who sells machinery to both companies, and is well liked by both presidents, enters the picture. This vendor starts to talk with each president separately about merging the companies and eventually brings the two presidents face-to-face to create a win-win outcome.


Of course, an obvious counter would be for one counterpart to refuse to work with a mediator but, in this example, countering would not be in either president’s best interest. If you agree to work with a mediator in a negotiation, we have two helpful suggestions. First, make sure you verify that the mediator chosen is truly impartial and does not unfairly represent one side. Test the information the mediator presents for accuracy. If necessary, talk to others who have worked with the mediator in the past to ensure his character is strong and his results are credible. Second, verify the fees or costs of the mediator’s services up-front so there are no surprise bills or sudden requests to split his commission.

Have you used or encountered this tactic in your negotiations? If so, how’d it go?

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