Business Negotiation November 4, 2013

How to Discover How Much Authority the Other Person Really Has

While there is no perfect defense against those who want to play authority tricks, the ten countermeasures suggested below are designed to help cope with hidden authority tactics on the part of those who oppose you:

  1. Ask the other party whether she has the authority to negotiate. Pin down her limits as clearly as possible. Do not accept evasive answers. This advice is a lot easier to execute as a buyer than as a seller.
  2. Know the history of the company and person with whom you are dealing. If they have a history of fooling around with authority, you can expect a problem.
  3. Understand the other party’s decision-making structure.
  4. Get the other party’s boss to tell you if any authority limits exist. Make the boss commit herself, either off the record or on the record.
  5. Find out in advance how long it takes to get an approval cleared. Have them lay out the process you will have to go through.
  6. Find out if those who must approve will be available when and if agreement is reached. You don’t want to wait until they return from Europe.
  7. Get a clear list of all documents required for approval. The absence of a single form, certification or document can often delay decisions by months.
  8. Do not state your own authority unless pressed to do so. Do not be too clear about it unless you have to.
  9. Keep your people informed that the other party may use such tactics. Don’t let yourself present arguments prematurely to those who do not matter in the negotiation. If you do, you’ll find yourself saying the same thing to different people over and over again.
  10. If you are a buyer, an effective tactic is to tell the opposing sales manager that you refuse to deal with Charlie, the salesman, because he did not have authority at the last negotiation and wasted your time. The sales manager probably won’t send Charlie, but if she does, Charlie will probably have the authority to close the deal this time.

These countermeasures will not work all the time. They will not guarantee success against those who want to play games with authority. Sometimes nothing will work but the courage to call the other side’s bluff and a willingness to walk away and start over again with someone else.

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