tufts universitytufts magazine issue homepage
contact us back issues related links
features columns Take It From Me Strong People Kids These Days Animal Instincts Negotiating Life jumbolaya planet tufts newswire the big day departments

Negotiating Life

Borrowing Influence

How to get by with a little help from your friends

Several years ago, Reebok attempted to renegotiate its contract with a major distributor, but met a flat refusal. So Reebok asked a noncompeting manufacturer to get the other side to listen to reason. It was a savvy move. The manufacturer, which also happened to be a client of the distributor, intervened willingly and persuasively because it worried that a festering conflict between Reebok and the distributor would hinder the distribution of its own products. The result was that Reebok renegotiated its contract at last.

Like most of us, you may view negotiation purely as a matter between you and whoever is sitting across from you at the table. But you’ll increase your chances of success if you follow Reebok’s example by seeking help from other people in appropriate cases. Ask yourself two fundamental questions: Do I have all the resources I need to achieve my goals? And who can give me what I lack at a price I am willing to pay?

To answer these questions, understand that negotiation is all about influence. Anything that might be used to wield influence is therefore part of a negotiator’s resources. Social psychologists have identified five important bases for influencing other people’s behavior: rewards, coercion, expertise, credibility, and relationships. Let’s look at how a third party can help you fortify those bases and make your negotiations more effective.

Rewards. In some negotiations, you may discover that you simply cannot give the other side the reward it wants all by yourself. For example, perhaps a painter is demanding an outrageous sum to paint your house. In this case, you may be able to reduce the cost if you persuade your neighbors to use the same painter.

Coercion. The threat of loss or punishment can be a powerful negotiating tool, and often introducing another player can lend clout to such a threat. Let’s say a company has broken its contract with you. Your threat to sue gains more credence if a noted law firm sends the company a letter formally acknowledging that you have engaged their services.

Expertise. Whether you are negotiating to buy a car or to put an addition on your home, your lack of relevant expertise can make it hard to achieve a good deal. So ask a knowledgeable friend to come with you to the auto showroom or the building contractor’s office. Or maybe you need expertise in negotiation itself. If that’s the case—for instance, you are locked in a conflict with a neighbor who insists on playing loud music or a merchant who has sold you a defective appliance—you might propose using a professional mediator.

Credibility. Sometimes the other side just won’t take your word. When that happens, you might enlist a respected individual to vouch for you. Say you’re negotiating for a professional position or a freelance contract. A telephone call or letter from a person who knows the quality of your work could help back up your claims that you can do the job better than your competitors.

Relationships. When Reebok enlisted the help of that other manufacturer in negotiating a new contract with its distributor, the strategy worked because the distributor had highly profitable dealings with the manufacturer—dealings it didn’t want to jeopardize. As you prepare for any negotiation, consider who among your friends may have a relationship that you can use to your advantage. In negotiations with government agencies, for example, those who lack access to key officials often turn to lobbyists or politicians to provide it. As a rule, one of the best ways to increase your power in a negotiation is to build supportive relationships with those who can influence the other side.

In negotiations, as in life, it’s important to choose your friends carefully, and to remember that there’s no free lunch. When a third party enters into your negotiations, you incur a cost, which may have to be paid in a variety of currencies, including money, time, autonomy, and future obligations. Always make sure the benefits you hope to gain are worth it. But if they are, then go ahead. Get a little help from your friends—it just might seal the deal.

JESWALD W. SALACUSE is the Henry J. Braker Professor of Law and a former dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts. He is the author of Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich and Powerful People, and, most recently, Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government (AMACOM).

  © 2008 Tufts University Tufts Publications, 80 George St., Medford, MA 02155