You are about to sign a deal after weeks of intense negotiations. The client, before picking up the pen, says to you, “I just got a call from the CEO and he said he wants another 10 percent off the price before I sign.” What do you say?
More importantly, how do you feel? This moment, that was to represent the culmination of months of work, is suddenly spoiled by an 11th hour demand for a concession. Doesn’t this somehow feel… unfair?
We have all encountered that moment in our professional and personal lives when someone asks for something and we feel like they are taking advantage of us. Most people go through a rapid cycle of emotions: anger and frustration, then analysis and rationalization, so that they talk themselves into saying “yes” to the demand “for the relationship,” “for the good of the deal” or “to keep the peace in the family.”
This is a negotiation ailment called “accommodation” and even senior business executives fall victim to it. But there is one word that can provide the cure: Legitimacy. Among the seven elements in a negotiation, Legitimacy is perhaps the most powerful because it serves as the baseline for whether a deal is good for both parties. Legitimacy is what triggers our “fairness antennae” and makes us pause in our response.
The way to use Legitimacy in our negotiations is simple and, once done a few times, becomes quite empowering. When the other party, whether it’s a CEO or your mother, says “this is what I want,” pause and cycle through your emotions. This time, instead of saying, “Well, OK if that will make you happy,” challenge the Legitimacy of the request. Say something like, “I hear what you’re asking for and please help me understand why that’s fair.”
Introducing the notion of “fairness” into the exchange has a powerful emotional impact on people. The notion of “fairness” is built into us from childhood; to play fair and to treat other people fairly. So when you challenge the Legitimacy of a request by asking someone to justify its fairness, it sends the other party into an emotional cycle of trying to balance the behavior in making the request against the moral compass of “fairness.”
What you now have is an opportunity to work out a solution that both of you will find acceptable. You will feel empowered that you healed yourself of your accommodating behavior and have begun a journey to being a truly disciplined negotiator.