Who’s In Charge Of Your Negotiation?

by drjim on June 22, 2018

Authority can be escalated during any negotiation

Authority can be escalated during any negotiation
Image Credit: macwagen

The goal of any negotiation is to be able to reach a deal with the other side of the table no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are used. In order to make this happen, you need to be able to agree to things and then you need to be able to deliver on what you have promised. Somewhat interestingly, the other side of the table has to be able to do exactly the same thing. How can you tell if they will be able to do this?

The Challenge Of Escalating Authority

When you are in the middle of a negotiation, you have some assumptions. You believe that all you have to do is to convince the other side that your positon on the issues is valid and then they can agree to do a deal with you. However, this is not always the case. A good example of when this is the case has to do with car dealers. Often you’ll spend your time negotiating for a car with a salesperson only to have them inform you “… I’ll have to check with my manager to approve this deal.”

Often after the sales person has gone and talked with their manager, they will return to let you know that the deal that you reached with them won’t be accepted. They need to raise the price. What has happened here is that the sales person that you were dealing with represented himself as having the authority to make a deal. However, after the deal was made, he told you that he really didn’t have the authority to make the deal and the final decision making will have to “go up the line”. This is an old tactic.

There are a number of variations on this tactic that you may encounter. One has you start out dealing with a member of the other side who treats you badly. Later in the negotiations, their boss comes in, perhaps kicks them out, and then apologies for the way that they have been treating you. They point out that their person did have some valid points and then they sit down and start to negotiate with you. Yet another variation has to do with multiple levels of escalation. In this case you start out negotiating with the lowest level of the other side, they pass you on to the next highest level and they restart the negotiations. You negotiate with them and then they pass you on to their next highest level of management and you once again start the negotiations all over again. Eventually you get so worn down that you’ll agree to just about any deal that they put on the table.

How To Protect Yourself Against The Escalating Authority Tactic

Knowing that the “escalation of authority” tactic exists is a start. However, you also have to be able to detect it when it is being used against you and then take action in order to defend yourself against it. Clearly, becoming aware of when it is being used against you is fairly simple. Any time that you are negotiating with someone that you believe can do a deal with you only to discover late in the game that they are going to have to check with someone else in order to get approval for the deal that you’ve created with them, the alarm bells should start to go off in your head.

In order to deal with this tactic, you are going to have to take action early on in your negotiation. What you are going to want to do right off the bat is to try to determine if the person that you are negotiating with has the authority to make a deal with you. One way to go about doing this is when the other side makes their demands of you, you respond by saying “If I meet those demands, could we close the deal today – right now?” Listen closely to how the other side responds. If they start to make excuses, then you’ll know that they don’t have the authority to do a deal with you.

In a case like this, you will quickly start to realize that you are not going to be able to create a deal with the person who is sitting across from you at the table. Instead, you are going to end up having to deal with someone else in order to create a deal. Since you know that you’ll be dealing with someone else, you should hold back from presenting all of your cards at this time. You’ll want to save some of them for the next person that you know that you’ll be dealing with.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any principled negotiation is to be able to reach a deal with the other side of the table. However, in order to be able to do this the other side has to have the authority to be able to not only agree to a deal with you, but also to carry it out. All too often after we’ve been involved in a negotiation for some time, we’ll discover that the other side does not have the authority that they had led us to believe that they had.

A good example of when this “escalation of authority” tactic is used is when we are negotiating for a car. We’ll reach a deal with a salesperson only to have them inform us that they need to get approval from their manager. The manager never approves the initial deal and so then you have to start all over again. There are many other variations in this tactic. In order to protect yourself against this tactic being used against you, early on in the negotiations you need to determine if the person that you are talking with has the ability to make a deal with you. If they don’t, then you’ll want to keep some of your cards to yourself so that they can be played with the next person that you negotiate with.

Reaching a deal that both sides can live with is the goal of every negotiation. However, both sides have to negotiate in good faith in order for this to occur. You need to take steps early on to make sure that you will not be wasting your time talking with this person. If they can’t do a deal with you, then you need to let them know that you’ll only spend your time talking with someone who can do a deal with you.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you detect that someone is using the “authority escalation” tactic on you, should you stop the negotiation right then and there?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators, we end up putting up with a lot during a negotiation. We know that no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques we are using, we often make mistakes during a negotiation and all too often we end up punishing ourselves for the things that we think that we could have done better. No matter if it’s an answer to a question that we didn’t have or when you wanted to say something, but the words just got away from you. It turns out that making these mistakes is ok because you do have a bill of rights. There is a set of things that it’s ok for you to do during any negotiation.

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