Using The Power Of Legitimacy In A Negotiation

Legitimacy can cause discussions to come to a wrap up quickly
Legitimacy can cause discussions to come to a wrap up quickly

Image Credit: Clover Autrey

It’s actually sorta interesting. As negotiators we go into a negotiation expecting to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to have an extended discussion with the other side regarding the deal that is on the table before us. Depending on what is at stake, these discussions may continue for quite some time and may even end up spanning several different meetings. What we would really like to happen is to have the other side just agree to the proposal that we’ve presented them with. Although we can’t actually make this happen, there is a way that we can get things to move along quicker. This can happen when we use the power of legitimacy.

What Is Legitimacy?

So before we get too deep into this discussion, perhaps we should all take a step back and make sure that everyone understands just exactly what legitimacy is. It turns out that legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority. In other words, if something appears to be “the law”, then more often than not people will be willing to go along with it.

As negotiators understanding the power of legitimacy is a critical skill. During a negotiation if we make a proposal to the other side, then they will feel as though they have the right to come back and negotiate with us regarding that proposal. However, if instead of making a proposal we present the other side with some document that explains why we have to make the proposal that we did, then in almost every case the other side will no longer feel that this is a negotiable topic.

Just exactly why legitimacy works is a bit of a mystery. Perfectly rational people who are more than willing to negotiate with you until the cows come home will suddenly become quiet and move on to the next topic when presented with reasons why your position has legitimacy. There is something about having a 3rd party establish the rules that causes the fight to go out of other negotiators. This is a power that you need to find a way to tap into.

How To Use Legitimacy

If we can understand that legitimacy has a great deal of power associated with it, then as negotiators we need to take the time to understand how we can use this power to make our next negotiation more effective. What we are going to have to learn how to do is to refine how we present our position to the other side of the table.

One of the things that we need to realize is that if during a negotiation we create a proposal for the other side that they view as being a custom creation just for them, then they will be willing to enter in to a negotiation with you regarding the details of your proposal. They view each part of your proposal as just being your position and therefore open to change. However, if instead of creating a custom proposal for them instead you present them with a formal looking proposal and state that it is the standard way that you deal with this type of situation, then all of a sudden the power of legitimacy will come into play and the other side will be hesitant to make any changes to your proposal.

Another way that you can bring the power of legitimacy to a negotiation is by creating a formal document that lays out a number of options for the other side to choose from. Instead of having a blank slate before them where they feel that they can negotiate any issues with you, instead they are now going to be restricted to having to make a selection from a list of only a few options. All of a sudden the power of legitimacy has made them believe that the list that you have presented them with contains the only options that are available to them. This is exactly what you want to have happen.

What All Of This Means For You

The negotiations that we enter into have the possibility of becoming lengthy affairs. The reason for this is that often the other side views each of the issues that is on the table as being the starting point for a separate negotiation. As negotiators, we would like to eliminate as much of this discussion as possible and we can make it happen by using the power of legitimacy.

We need to understand that legitimacy is when people accept something because it comes from an authority figure. People are willing to go along with things that they believe are legitimate. If we make a proposal to the other side that appears formal, then they will often accept it because it can’t be changed. This is the power of involving a 3rd party. As long as the other side doesn’t think that we’ve created a custom proposal for them, they may be willing to go along with it. We may also want to present the other side with a proposal that has a limited number of options in order to restrict their choices.

As negotiators we show up for a principled negotiation ready to negotiate. However, we also understand that sometimes these events can drag on as the other side attempts to negotiate every small detail. What we need is a way to move things along. Using the power of legitimacy we can shut down some of this negotiation and narrow the other side’s possible choices. Use this new found power to get what you want out of your next negotiation quicker!

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

Question For You: When you present the other side with a list of choices, how many do you think that you should include?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you have a chance to talk with experienced negotiators, you’ll often hear them tell you “knowledge is power”. What they are talking about, in simple terms, is that the more that you know as you go into a negotiation, the better you can expect to do during the negotiations no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. Depending on how much you know about what is being negotiated, what the current situation is for the other side of the table, and even what’s going on at your company, you’ll be better equipped to walk away with the deal that you are looking for. The trick is knowing how to get the information that you’ll need…