Integrative Negotiation Rule No. 3: Argue For a Third Party

Most people enjoy the feelings of pride and importance that come from making their own decisions. Supporting other people’s power to choose for themselves is a great way to spread pride throughout an organization.

When it comes to negotiating, though, there’s a curious phenomena we should all be aware of:

We actually increase our personal power when we represent someone else — not ourselves — in a negotiation.

Why is this? One reason is that other parties tend not to hold us as accountable when we present them few alternatives.

Because our authority is limited when we’re representing someone else, other parties tend to put themselves at higher need to produce a solution.

As with the other tenets of negotiation I’ve been discussing in my last posts, there are both distributive (i.e., win/lose) and integrative (or win/win) applications of this principle.

Here’s an example of a distributive argument for a third party:

After shopping around for weeks, you’ve found the car of your dreams. You submit an offer to the salesman who promptly disappears “to get the manager’s approval” on your offer.

Ten minutes later he returns to exclaim that the sales manager is holding out for “this” much (“this” being a number on the slip of paper he slides across the table as he looks into your eyes for a reaction).

The salesman says he represented your interests. But  in his “limited” authority, he’s actually representing the sales manager, not you. (Swap the sales manager in this example for hierarchical management and it’s easy to see how widely this tactic is used in organizations!)

How can we deal with distributive third party tactics? Here are three choices:

  1. Martyr ourselves by accepting that we don’t have access to the real negotiator and must settle for what’s being offered.
  2. Stoop to using distributive tactics of our own by delaying the purchasing decision because you “have to” take the salesman’s offer to an absent third party (like your spouse, parent, business partner, etc…)
  3. Respond from integrity to the person in the middle by saying, “Well, if I’m really negotiating with the sales manager, let’s both go see her so we can make sure everyone’s interests are met rapidly!”

Arguing for a third party can also be done integratively. We can become extremely tough bargainers when we believe so much in our team (family, organization, community, etc.) that we bargain for their sake, not for ours.

To do this, apply The Leadership Gift principle of empowerment: never make decisions on behalf of your team unless you know your team will support them.

Here’s an example: say your team has painstakingly worked out a project plan that you know will take more resources than management has budgeted. When you represent the team’s request for more resources to your manager, he says no and asks you to get the job done with the limited resources.

Instead of saying “Okay, I’ll try,” knowing you’ll be unsuccessful, you can argue integratively for the third party (your team). That kind of response sounds something like this: “I value my team’s analysis and believe you should, too. I’d be two-faced to go back to them and try to convince them that our analysis wasn’t valid. Even if I did that, they still wouldn’t put their hearts into the project. So you and I have a problem to solve together if this project is truly important to you….”

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch

Recall the last time someone used distributive third-party tactics to win in negotiation with you. Did you call them on it and invite them to step up to integrative negotiating? If not, why not?

The first step toward new behavior is seeing the choices we make — and seeing them as choice, not inevitability.

Now reimagine the situation as one in which you took an integrative approach. How would the situation have turned out that way? Wouldn’t those results have outweighed whatever discomfort you were seeking to avoid at the time?

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Collaboration, Teamwork on 02/05/2013 10:47 am
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