Most negotiators ignore the fact that having limits on their authority can make their jobs easier – it’s a source of negotiating power.

A negotiator with limits becomes harder to deal with. They can say “no” gracefully – someone else is saying it. That someone else can be a procedure, a policy, a budget, an engineering standard, or maybe a regulation that can’t be changed.

Often one person’s limits can become the other person’s problem. If you and I are negotiating and I have limits to my authority, it is up to you to figure out a way around them. You are forced into a choice: either accept the deal at my limits or make a lot of work for yourself, and maybe get no deal at all.

If you challenge my lack of authority by taking the problem to a higher authority, other apprehensions set in. Now you must take on my boss, or their boss, or the legal department, or the engineering staff – all of whom represent new relationships and a greater degree of preparation on your part. Also, if you do go to higher levels, there is always a chance the party you are negotiating with will get angry.

There is greater strength in not having authority than in having it. A person going into a negotiation needs to ask, “What limits do I want imposed on my authority?” Well chosen limits can make a big difference in the outcome of your negotiation.

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