The Role Of Legitimacy In A Negotiation

If you are going to reach a deal, the other side must have legitimacy
If you are going to reach a deal, the other side must have legitimacy
Image Credit: ITU Pictures

Everybody likes a bit of stability in their lives. As negotiators we enjoy having some stability in our negotiations no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. However, we can run into problems when manifestations of control slide into a negotiation and end up stifling innovation, repressing new ideas, and in some cases causing blind obedience to an external authority.

The Role Of Authority In Negotiations

Authority in a negotiation can take on many different forms. One form is formal authority. This generally shows up in the form of either a superior or a boss who is in charge based on their ranking in the company’s overall organization. These people have been granted a “territory” by the company and are expected to setup negotiation norms and make decisions that will then have to be implemented by others. These people display their power in a number of different ways that can include titles or where their office is located or how big their office is.

During a negotiation, the power of legitimacy can take on different forms. These can take many different shapes including forms, price tags, and official looking documents. The fact that these items look like they are official and they have an air of legitimacy, allows them to shape our behavior. They will ultimately have an impact on the decision making that we make during the negotiations.

When we encounter things that have an air of legitimacy to them, we tend to react to them in a “knee jerk” fashion. We are all too often willing to view things that appear to be formal to us as being legitimate even though the reason that they were originally created has long since gone away. They may not have any current validity and they probably don’t relate to our current set of circumstances. Despite all of that, all too often we allow these things to change our way of thinking and have an influence on the choices that we make.

Dealing With The Herd Instinct

When it comes time to make a decision, all too often we have an unconscious impulse to “follow the crowd”. I’d like to say that this is something that is easy to overcome; however, it appears that this desire to do what everyone else is doing is deeply rooted in all of us. The thinking is that our willingness to go along with what everyone else is doing comes from back in the day when it was important to the survival of our species. We are also very sensitive to how others will react to our actions. All of this might explain why we feel the need to conform to what everyone else is doing.

One key way that the herd instinct can show up in our lives is when we are dealing with material that has been printed. For some reason, when we encounter something that has been printed we give it additional authority and we allow it to influence our behavior. As negotiators we need to realize this when we are trying to influence the other side of the table. Their faith in the printed word can play nicely into our hands.

One characteristic of the herd instinct is that people really don’t like change. That’s why if during a negotiation you are going to be introducing a novel new idea or a big change, you are going to want to do it gradually. Introduce the new thing in small increments and as you do it, make sure that you provide the other side with supporting material that provides the changes that you are proposing with some form of legitimacy. By doing this you’ll be able to calm the other side and they won’t reject your new idea out-of-hand.

What All Of This Means For You

Legitimacy is what we are all seeking in our lives. We like it when there is stability and we can understand what things really have meaning. However, as negotiators we need to understand that we live in changing times and so we always need to be questioning if something that we are dealing with should still be considered to be legitimate.

Authority comes into a principled negotiation in many different forms. In one form it’s the people who have authority due to their jobs, their title, or their large office. Legitimacy can take on other forms during a negotiation as price tags, formal documents, etc. The herd instinct can also play a role in our decision making. If we go along with everyone else, then we are being part of the heard. Printed material can make it easier to go along with the heard. We need to understand that herds don’t like change, so if we plan on introducing big changes, we need to do it in small increments with legitimacy.

Knowing that the other side will be seeking legitimacy during the negotiation can prepare us to meet their needs. This means that we need to bring prices, printed material, and things that look formal to the negotiation so that the other side can believe what we are telling them. If we get good at doing this, then our proposals will be viewed as being legitimate and we should be able to get the other side to easily agree to them.

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

Question For You: When you see something during a negotiation that appears legitimate, what should your first reaction be?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Risk is a funny thing. A lot of us would like to be able to live a life that was filled with certainty. We’d like to know what was going to happen today as well as tomorrow. However, as we all know, life really doesn’t work that way. We understand the simple truth that everything changes. Anything that we have today can go away. Life truly is fleeting. All of our lives involve some amount of risk. Are you comfortable with the amount of risk that is in your life?