It’s hard to negotiate against an expert. People are reluctant to assert themselves when dealing with those who are authorities in their field. Experts are a source of power. They serve to move settlement in their direction.
Almost all of us have been intimidated by experts at one time or another. There is probably some room to negotiate a mechanic’s proposed price to repair your car. Yet the moment we try to bargain, we find ourselves confronted by the language of expertise-a foreign tongue beyond our understanding. All we can do is make a feeble attempt to bargain and hope they will be kind enough to give us a break. That’s the way expertise affects bargaining. It conditions us to be passive.
Does this happen in business negotiations? Yes. I have been in sessions where our engineers, normally forceful during planning sessions, said little to defend our position when confronted by the other side’s superior experts. Most negotiators take respectful cover when dealing with those they perceive as experts. They ask fewer questions, do most of the listening and become less assertive in expressing their viewpoint.
In the world we live in, you must expect to be confronted by experts again and again. What can you do to protect your position? The first thing to recognize is that every expert has limits. The best of them may know a great deal about one thing, but they are rarely masters of a broad area. Also, it is well to recognize that their expertise in one area makes it unlikely they will be credible in another. For example, an expert in fabrics is not likely to be an expert in interior decorating. The trouble is that we have a tendency to accept the person’s authority in fabrics and attribute that expertise to interior decorating as well.
Trial lawyers are generally less intimidated by experts than most of us. They know that for every expert there is an equal and opposite expert. In negotiation, the best thing you can do when confronted by an expert is to get one of your own.
Research in psychology indicates that people who are introduced as experts have greater credibility. It’s important that you give your experts all the credibility and prestige you can muster. It will help them influence the other party in support of your position.
There is one more crucial point about experts that deserves to be made. A negotiation is not a jury trial. The outcome will not be determined by whether a jury believes the expert. There is no jury. The result will be determined by the balance of power, the skill of the bargainers, their motivations, the creative both-win alternatives they can jointly develop and the expectations they bring to the table. You have the right to disagree with the experts for any reason you choose, be it right or wrong, intuitive or scientifically rational.