Better Deals Through Level II Strategies: Advance Your Interests by Helping to Solve Their Internal Problems

14 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2014

See all articles by James K. Sebenius

James K. Sebenius

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: March 19, 2014


Many negotiators have constituencies that must formally or informally approve an agreement. Traditionally, it is the responsibility of each negotiator to manage the internal conflicts and constituencies on his or her own side. Far less familiar are the many valuable ways that one side can meet its own interests by helping the other side with the other’s “internal,” “behind-the-table,” or “Level II” constituency challenges. Sebenius (2013) offered a moderately theoretical treatment of this challenge. Moving from theory to practice and from simple to complex, the present paper builds on that work. It illustrates several classes of practical measures that negotiators can use to advance their own interests by focusing on the other side’s Level II negotiations. Beyond tailoring the terms of the deal for this purpose (e.g., with “compensation provisions”), one side can help the other, and vice versa, via a number of devices, alone or in combination. These include a) shaping the form of the agreement (e.g. tacit v. explicit, process v. substantive); b) tailoring the form of the negotiating process itself (to send a useful signal to constituencies); c) avoiding (or making) statements that inflame (or mollify) the other side’s internal opponents; d) helping the other side attractively frame the deal for Level II acceptability; e) providing the ingredients for the other side to make an acceptance or even “victory speech” about why saying “yes” to the deal you want is smart and in the other side’s interests. f) constructive actions at the bargaining table informed by knowledge of the other side’s internal conflicts (e.g., not escalating when the other side mainly speaks for domestic purposes); g) having the first side work with the other side to tacitly coordinate outside pressure on the other side’s Level II constituents to accept the deal that the first side prefers; and h) in extraordinary cases, by directly negotiating with one’s counterparts to design measures that thwart its Level II opponents.

Keywords: negotiation, bargaining, two-level games, internal negotiations, constituency negotiations, conflict resolution

Suggested Citation

Sebenius, James K., Better Deals Through Level II Strategies: Advance Your Interests by Helping to Solve Their Internal Problems (March 19, 2014). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-091, Available at SSRN: or

James K. Sebenius (Contact Author)

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

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