Have you ever faced a negotiator who presents with ‘limited authority’ to make a deal?
Think of the company rep who’s fully authorised to refuse every option you might offer, but has no power to approve even your reasonable counter-offers.
Of course, sometimes the ‘limited authority’ claim is entirely genuine. Not every negotiator you face will have authority to strike a deal. But what do you do if their ‘limited authority’ is a deliberate ploy to manipulate you into accepting a less attractive deal?
The danger of limited authority
Consider the example of a car salesperson who negotiates with you to reach the ‘best deal’, but then indicates that their manager must approve the deal just when you think you’re over the line. Their manager then rejects the deal, insisting that you need to pay more. In the meantime, encouraged by the salesperson, you’ve become emotionally committed to the purchase and may find yourself paying significantly more for the car than you would otherwise.
What makes the ploy so effective is that you never blame the salesperson for the deal’s rejection. The salesperson plays your friend, which permits them to gain your trust and perhaps discover your walkaway point, thereby exploiting the deal for every last dollar. In this sense, those who bargain with ‘limited’ authority present a power paradox: the less authority they carry, the greater their power may actually be. Limited authority negotiators cannot make concessions, thereby pressuring you to accept deals to which you might not otherwise agree.
How do you deal with this tactic? Here are a few helpful ways to combat “limited authority” ploys.
Whether or not you believe your counterpart’s ‘lack of authority’ claims are genuine, one powerful strategy is to simply request a meeting with the person who’s been identified as having the authority to reach a deal. That way, you by-pass the ‘gatekeeper’ and avoid the authority issue altogether.
Limit your own authority
Another way to moderate the power of the ‘limited authority’ tactic is to enter the talks with some limits on your own authority. This will give you time to properly evaluate any offers made by the other party, without the pressure of needing to reach agreement there and then.
Don’t get hooked
Most dirty tricks in negotiation play on your emotions, but at the subconscious level. That is, they rely on you not realising that they’re happening to you, until you’re hooked and it’s too late. So if you suspect that your counterpart is feigning ‘limited authority’, remind yourself not to psychologically ‘commit’ to the deal until you have a fully-authorised offer on the table.
In the meantime, you can simply continue negotiating while insisting that you retain the right to modify your offer so long as the other side hasn’t committed to the deal. That way you avoid becoming psychologically committed while your counterpart remains free to reject or modify the deal.
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