Collective agreements between management and trade unions are perceived to be harder to obtain than other negotiated contracts. This is because Trade Unions are thought to simply reject all positions besides their own, and believe that management will eventually take industrial action.

Focusing on the motivation of change behind the negotiation, and approaching the planning process systematically may increase clarity and decrease worries. Ultimately, whichever party “wins” the best deal will depend on the balance of power. There can be, however, processes which may tilt the scale in your favour. Modelled after recommendations from the experts in negotiation, The GAP Partnership, here is a brief four stage approach to collective agreements.


Information is Power

When you lack power, seeking information can be a way to achieve a stronger position. Increasing your knowledge will inform your strategies and structure of your negotiation. Seek to understand the full range of possibilities: the other party’s position, the key influencers and stakeholders, and underlying politics.

The change of goals mid-negotiation, and more precisely, parties being unprepared to deal with changes in positions, is the most common cause of failure in trade union negotiations. To combat this, predict and plan for potential problems beforehand. You can even go beyond that and plan how to prevent or mitigate problems if necessary. Your plan may be well thought out at the time of writing, but may crumble if the situation changes. A well prepared strategy always seeks to understand the potential problems, likely, or inevitable to the situation.

Stakeholders & Goal Clarification

The second step in planning for your negotiation is identifying who is involved directly and indirectly. This will enable the determination of where relationships need to be built for cooperation, and where risk that top-level spoken agreements will happen in misalignment of negotiation team goals.

In Trade Union agreements, a stakeholder’s buy-in is the biggest cause of failure. This is because the risk that senior management, or other decision makers, will change their position when faced with the threat of deadlock is always present. Mitigating this risk by seeking to answer how these stakeholders will behave in said situation will ensure your predictions are accurate. Triple checking and being able to ensure the other party will create trust, will help to facilitate the communication process.

Create a plan to engage stakeholders in the entire strategy and clarify goals.  Setting your goals and ensuring they are agreed on by all stakeholders is key to reduce uncertainty and thus the risk of stakeholder buy-in as a cause of failure. You should be able to write your goal in one clear and consistent sentence. Always believe you can exceed your goal, but be careful not to set too strong a position from the start.



Trade Storming & Negotiation Strategy


Once the goal has been clearly set you must move on to Trade Storming. This is the process where all possible issues are addressed. All negotiable variables must be identified to be able to consider all possible issues. Proactively consider what will go wrong and pre-empt this with contingencies. Plan for failure by negotiation. This can be quite the long process but will give you an upper hand in dealing with change during negotiation.



There are nine possible negotiation strategies; capitulate, compromise, build, grow, hold, position, caution, impose, and exit. They depend on power balance in comparison to the desired goals and approach you want to take. When strategy building you must answer the following: How are we approaching the situation? Do we have enough power to achieve this, and if not: how can we adjust our approach? And, what strategy will most likely achieve our goal? Answer these questions, identify your relative power, and you will have a strategy to prepare for.

Once the strategy is determined, the negotiation team must then build an execution plan. This should detail what will happen and when and who will be delivering each action. Be careful in clarifying the first move, as successful negotiation teams are often those who are united in theirs.

Strategic Planning

Plans will almost never go as planned, it is important to have that in mind and prepare accordingly during the strategic planning phase. Once your strategy is determined and your goal is clear, you must take the time to predict problems, tactics with which you will overcome problems, and triggers which may require for a change in behaviour or strategy.

Once responses are predicted, a second strategy must be chosen in the event that triggers should happen. This process, that is to say strategy identification responses to problems, and trigger identification, should be repeated at each stage of the plan. Whilst it is a long process, it will give the negotiation team and outside stakeholder the confidence that every eventuality has been considered and planned for.

Some closing tips to ensuring execution is successful include ensuring true confidentiality of the plan, setting a leader role beforehand to make final decisions, and reviewing the skill set of the negotiation team to ensure they are qualified for the negotiation. Should this not be the case, consider taking part in expert negotiation training and courses.

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