What You'll Learn
  • Negotiators can limit their own authority as a tool that allows them a gracious way to say "No" and to buy time to think
  • Negotiators can be limited in their authority not by their own choosing
  • Negotiators want you to perceive more limited authority than the reality of the situation
  • Protect yourself and limit your authority from the start
  • Make sure your group/team is in sync with your limited authority
  • Whenever possible, you want to negotiate with someone with higher authority than you
  • Defend against limited authority by Probing: always challenge their limited authority

Recognize Limited Authority

Coming to negotiations with authority to bind your organization only at the level of your Goal or without the authority to make creative concessions.

Three scenarios where you will find limited authority:

  1. Negotiators limit their own authority as a tool that allows them a gracious way to say "No" and to buy time to think.
  2. Negotiators are limited in their authority not by their own choosing, but by limits maintained pursuant to organizational policy or imposed by higher level individuals, or in cultures where the negotiators do not have authority to commit.
  3. Negotiators want you to perceive more limited authority than the reality of the situation, and allude to a proposal being outside their authority.

Expect this tactic to be used as part of one of these Negotiation Strategies (competitive, collaborative, avoidance, accommodation, compromise) and in these stages of the Negotiation Process (Preparation, Exchange, Bargain, Conclude, Execution).

Negotiation Strategies: Collaborative, Competitive, and Compromise
Negotiation Stages: Bargain, Conclude and Execute


Use Limited Authority in Collaborative Negotiations

Protect yourself and limit your authority from the start. Lying about your limited authority, like any type of lying, is not acceptable in collaborative negotiations. Use these guidelines:

  • The key here is to LIMIT your authority. No one wants to negotiate with you if you have NO authority.
  • Make sure your group/team is in sync with your limited authority.
  • Declare your limit when you need a gracious way to say "No," or time to think about an offer, such as "I have to run the idea by the Contracts group first."

Defend Against Limited Authority

There are preventive and defensive measures for claims of limited authority.

Prevention

Whenever possible, you want to negotiate with someone with higher authority than you. Assess their authority level in the Exchange Stage if possible, and don't wait until Bargaining. Ask the following questions:

  • How long do decisions of this nature normally take?
  • What are your procedures for making decisions?
  • Who in your organization participates in these decisions?
  • Do you have authority and at what level? (A good negotiator will only answer that they have the authority to commit to any agreement that is beneficial.)

Defense

Always challenge their limited authority. It is more likely they have more authority to cut a final agreement than they claim. Try asking "If you don't have authority to do this, …

  • Who does? Who else?
  • When can the person with authority meet with us?
  • What is the process for you to get the needed authority?
  • How long will it take for you to get authority, or for the person with authority to meet with us?
  • What do you have authority to do? or What authority do you have?
  • What do you need from us to help you get approval, or authority?

More often than not, when you question their claim of limited authority with the types of respectful questions above, the other side often demurs and asserts a new claim of greater authority. Don't directly challenge the new claim; you both know what game was being played and you both know you revealed the tactic. Move forward with the "new found" level of authority; you are not likely to see this tactic from this negotiator again.