by Roger Dawson
One of the most frustrating situations you can run into is
trying to negotiate with the person who claims that he or
she doesn't have the authority to make a final decision. Unless
you realize that this is simply a negotiating tactic that's
being used on you, you have the feeling that you'll never
get to talk to the real decision-maker.
When I was president of the real estate company in California,
I used to have salespeople coming in to sell me things all
the time: advertising, photocopy machines, computer equipment,
and so on. I would always negotiate the very lowest price
that I could, and then I would say to them, "This looks
fine. I do just have to run it by my board of directors, but
I'll get back to you tomorrow with the final okay."
The next day I could get back to them and say, "Boy,
are they tough to deal with right now. I felt sure I could
sell it to them, but they just won't go along with it unless
you can shave another couple of hundred dollars off the price."
And I would get it. There was no approval needed by the board
of directors, and it never occurred to me that this deception
was underhanded. I and the people with whom you deal see it
as well within the rules by which one plays the game of negotiating.
So when the other person says to you that they have to take
it to the committee, or the legal department, it's probably
not true, but it is a very effective negotiating tactic that
they're using on you. Fortunately, Power Negotiators know
how to handle this challenge smoothly and effectively.
Your first approach should be trying to remove the other
person's resort to higher authority before the negotiations
even start, by getting him to admit that he could make a decision
if the proposal was irresistible. This is exactly the same
thing that I taught my real estate agents to say to the buyers
before putting them in the car, "Let me be sure I understand,
if we find exactly the right property for you today, is there
any reason why you wouldn't make a decision today?" It's
exactly the same thing that the car dealer will do to you
when, before he lets you take it for a test drive, he says,
"Let me be sure I understand, if you like this car as
much as I know you're going to like it, is there any reason
why you wouldn't make a decision today?" Because they
know that if they don't remove the resort to higher authority
up front, then there's a danger that under the pressure of
asking for a decision, the other person will invent a higher
authority as a delaying tactic. Such as, "Look, I'd love
to give you a decision today, but I can't because my father-in-law
has to look at the property (or the car), or Uncle Joe is
helping us with the down payment and we need to talk to him
One of the most frustrating things that you encounter is
taking your proposal to the other person and having her say
to you, "Well, that's fine. Thanks for bringing me the
proposal. I'll talk to our committee (or our attorney or the
owners) about it and if it interests us we'll get back to
you." Where do you go from there? If you're smart enough
to counter the Higher Authority Gambit before you start, you
can remove yourself from that dangerous situation.
So before you present your proposal to the other person,
before you even get it out of your briefcase, you should casually
say, "Let me be sure I understand. If this proposal meets
all of your needs (That's as broad as any statement can be,
isn't it?), is there any reason why you wouldn't give me a
It's a harmless thing for the other person to agree to because
the other person is thinking, "If it meets all of my
needs? No problem, there's loads of wriggle room there."
However, look at what you've accomplished if you can get them
to respond with, "Well, sure if it meets all of my needs,
I'll give you an okay right now." Look at what you've
- You've eliminated their right to tell you that they want
to want to think it over. If they say that, you say, "Well,
let me go over it one more time. There must be something
I didn't cover clearly enough because you did indicate to
me earlier that you were willing to make a decision today."
- You've eliminated their right to refer it to a higher
authority. You've eliminated their right to say, "I
want our legal department to see it, or the purchasing committee
to take a look at it."
What if you're not able to remove their resort to higher
authority? I'm sure that many times you'll say, "If this
proposal meets all of your needs is there any reason why you
wouldn't give me a decision today?" and the other person
will reply, "I'm sorry, but on a project of this size,
everything has to get approved by the specifications committee.
I'll have to refer it to them for a final decision."
Here are the three steps that Power Negotiators take when
they're not able to remove the other side's resort to higher
Step number one-appeal to their ego. With a smile
on your face you say, "But they always follow your recommendations,
don't they?" With some personality styles that's enough
of an appeal to his ego, that he'll say, "Well, I guess
you're right. If I like it, then you can count on it."
But often they'll still say, "Yes, they usually follow
my recommendations but I can't give you a decision until I've
taken it to the committee."
If you realize that you're dealing with egotistical people,
try preempting their resort to higher authority early in your
presentation, by saying, "Do you think that if you took
this to your supervisor, she'd approve it?" Often an
ego-driven person will make the mistake of proudly telling
you that he doesn't have to get any body's approval.
The second step is to get their commitment that they'll
take it to the committee with a positive recommendation.
So you say, "But you will recommend it to them-won't
you?" There are only two things that can happen at this
point. Either she'll say, yes, she will recommend it to them,
or she'll say, no she won't-because . . . Either way you've
won. Hopefully, you'll get a response similar to, "Yes,
it looks good to me, I'll go to bat for you with them."
But if that doesn't happen, and instead they tell you that
they won't recommend it because, you're still ahead, because
any time you can draw out an objection you should say, "Hallelujah"
because objections are buying signals. For example, nobody
will object to your price unless buying from you interests
them. If buying from you doesn't interest them, they don't
care how high you price your product or service.
For a while I dated a woman who was really into interior
decorating. One day she excitedly dragged me down to the Orange
County Design Center to show me a couch covered in kidskin.
The leather was as soft and as supple as anything I'd ever
felt. As I sat there, she said, "Isn't that a wonderful
I said, "No question about it, this is a wonderful couch."
She said, "And it's only $12,000."
I said, "Isn't that amazing? How can they do it for
She said, "You don't have a problem with the price?"
"I don't have a problem with the price at all."
Why didn't I have a problem with the price? Right. Because
I had absolutely no intention of paying $12,000 for a couch,
regardless of what they covered it with. Let me ask you this:
If buying the couch interested me, would I have a problem
with the price? Oh, you had better believe I'd have a problem
with the price!
Objections are buying signals. We knew in real estate that
if we were showing property, and the people were "Ooooing
and aaahing" all over the place, if they loved everything
about the property, they weren't going to buy. The serious
buyers were the ones who were saying, "Well the kitchen's
not as big as we like. Hate that wallpaper. We'd probably
end up knocking out that wall." Those were the ones who
If you're in sales, think about it. Have you ever in your
life made a big sale where the person loved your price up
front? Of course not. All serious buyers complain about the
Your biggest problem is not an objection, it's indifference.
I would rather they said to you, "I wouldn't buy widgets
from your company, if you were the last widget vendor in the
world, because . . ." than have them say to you, "I've
been using the same source on widgets for 10 years, and he
does fine. I'm just not interested in taking the time to talk
about making a change." Indifference is your problem,
Let me prove this to you. Give me the opposite of the word
love. If you said hate, think again. As long as they're throwing
plates at you, you have something there you can work with.
It's indifference that's the opposite of love. When they're
saying to you, like Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, "Quite
frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." -that's when
you know the movie is about over. Indifference is your problem,
not objections. Objections are buying signals.
So when you say to them, "You will recommend it to them,
won't you?" they can either say, yes they will, or no
they won't. Either way you've won. Then you can move to step
Step Three: The qualified "subject to" close.
The "subject to" close is the same one that your
life insurance agent uses on you when he or she says, "Quite
frankly, I don't know if we can get this much insurance on
someone your age. It would be "subject to" you passing
the physical anyway, so why don't we just write up the paper
work "subject to" you passing the physical?"
The life insurance agent knows that if you can fog a mirror
during that physical, he or she can get you that insurance.
But it doesn't sound as though you're making as important
a decision as you really are.
The qualified "subject to" close in this instance
would be: "Let's just write up the paper work "subject
to" the right of your specifications committee to reject
the proposal within a 24-hour period for any specifications
reason." Or, "Let's just write up the paper work
"subject to" the right of your legal department
to reject the proposal within a 24-hour period for any legal
Notice that you're not saying subject to their acceptance.
You're saying subject to their right to decline it for a specific
reason. If they were going to refer it to an attorney, it
would be a legal reason. If they were going to refer it to
their CPA, it would be a tax reason and so on. But try to
get it nailed down to a specific reason.
So the three steps to take if you're not able to get the
other person to waive his or her resort to higher authority
- Appeal to the other person's ego.
- Get the other person's commitment that he'll recommend
it to the higher authority.
- Use the qualified subject-to close.
Being able to use and handle the resort to higher authority
is critical to you when you're Power Negotiating. Always maintain
your own resort to higher authority. Always try to remove
the other person's resort to a higher authority.
Key points to remember:
- Attempt to get the other person to admit that he could
approve your proposal if it meets all of his needs. If that
fails, go through the three counter gambits:
- Appeal to his ego.
- Get his commitment that he'll recommend to his higher
- Go to a qualified subject-to close.
- If they are forcing you to make a decision before you're
ready to do so, offer to decide but let them know that the
answer will be no, unless they give you time to check with
- If they're using escalating authority on you, revert
to your opening position at each level and introduce your
own levels of escalating authority.