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Negotiation Roles


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation articles > Negotiation Roles

Leader | Critic | Relater | Expert | Recorder | Builder | Observer | See also


In a negotiation, there many be many roles to be played, particularly if it is long and with high stakes. Such negotiations may be found in big deal-making situations such as high-value sales and international politics.

Not all of the roles below need be held by separate people, for example the leader may also play the relater or critic and the secretary may also be an observer. Roles that may conflict with one another, such as relater and critic, however, are usually best separated and taken by different people.


The leader has two main roles, first to coordinate the actions of the team and second to provide the main 'face' of the negotiating team. In fact the leader may at times have separate conversations with the leader of the other team, in particular when things are getting stuck. Much can be completed in one-to-one discussions that may get bogged down when multiple people are each adding their thoughts.

The leader may be a senior person who has the authority to make decisions. There can be a risk in this, however, when the person is not experienced in team negotiation and may make elementary mistakes that could cost their organization a great deal.


The critic is the 'bad cop' of the team, always looking for flaws and problems. They may have an internal focus, criticizing their own team's activities (in private, of course) and may focus more in the room, criticizing points made by the opposing team. The internal role is helpful for avoiding problems like complacency and antagonism where the team moves away from an effective way of working together or with the opposing team.

Being a verbal critic in the negotiating room can be useful for giving a focus for the opposing team's frustration, which the leader or relater may later offer to quell (in exchange for agreement, of course). It also frees up the leader and relater to build relationships without having to cope with criticism. The leader may also let the critic bring up a subject and then say something like 'Well, she does have a point there' before taking it up as major topic.


The relater is the friendly face of the team. They build relationships with individuals in the opposing team and may through this gain useful pieces of information. They also act to intervene when there is conflict between personalities and can act as mediator or other supporting roles.

The relater may well avoid the harder substance of the negotiation, focusing more on relationships. However, they may at times need to use the relationship bridge to talk about aspects of the deal.


Experts may be rolled in and out of the negotiation to provide particular evidence or assessments in key areas, for example technology or law. Typically they do not do any direct negotiating, but give information and answer questions. When they are not there permanently, they may need to be briefed before they enter the negotiating room so their comments can be adjusted to align with the position of their home team.


The recorder (often called a scribe, secretary, etc.) takes notes about what is said. In particular they note what people are requesting and what offers are made. While they may occasionally ask questions to ensure they take accurate notes, they are mostly silent. This can let them act as another observer and they may make side notes that they can bring up with the leader or team later.


The builder is the person who creates the deals, putting together packages of things to exchange for other packages in return. They may also have a financial role where they assess the cost and value of items being exchanged. Often in negotiations, people over-value what they offer and under-value what they might receive. The builder seeks the truth of such positions and provides the leader with facts to enable a sound decision.


The observer has a watching brief, in particular paying attention to the subtleties of words and non-verbal body language. They may pass notes to the leader about their observations and discuss what they see in breaks between meetings. Hence, for example, they watch for signs of lying and other tensions. While this is not an exact science, people do send many unconscious signals that other members of the team may miss as they focus more on the substance of the negotiations.

See also

Using Body Language, Lying

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