Limited authority is a source of strength. The ability to say, “I can’t agree to your offer because the manager won’t let me or because company policy does not permit it” is a face-saving way to say “no” and an effective way to find out how hard the other party is willing to work to win a better agreement. One way to limit your authority and gain power at the same time is through organizational limits.
It is easy to limit a negotiator’s authority by imposing organizational constraints. For example, some years ago when I was buying a painting, I used an organizational limit to delay my final decision and leave room for further bargaining on price. I said to the artist, “I would like to talk to my wife and have her see the painting.” How could the artist resist such a reasonable and face-saving limit to my authority?
Organizational constraints to authority are common. Each of us has encountered such limits and accepted them without much resistance. The next time you want time to think or to try for further concessions, tell the other party that you have to discuss the matter with one or more of the following people in your organization:
- Your boss.
- Your partner.
- Members of the “committee.”
- One or more of your subordinates.
- One or more of your peers.
- The controller or accountant.
- Your lawyer.
- The banker who lends you money.
- Your spouse or friend.
- Executives in other departments like manufacturing, quality or sales.
- Your customer.
- Your supplier.
Most people who negotiate feel uncomfortable with organizational constraints to their authority. My advice is that you welcome such constraints rather than reject them. They will make it easier to push for the agreement you want.