The Negotiator Magazine

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  1. Boulwareism

            People who dislike the give-and-take of traditional bargaining encounters occasionally seek to short cut the process by beginning with firm and unyielding opening offers. This was the approach taken by Lemuel Boulware, the former labor negotiator for the General Electric Company, who wished to make it clear to workers that they were getting their wage and benefit increases due to corporate generosity rather than union demands. Parties wishing to employ this device must possess a substantial amount of bargaining power, because, if they don’t, opponents will simply ignore their offers and do business with someone else. This approach is an affront to opponents who expect to participate meaningfully in the bargaining process and feel they influenced the final terms agreed upon. It is basically a parent-child interaction with the “parent” offerors telling the “child” offerees what they must accept.

            The visceral reaction to Boulwareism is to call the offerors’ bluff. This may cause a work stoppage or a failed interaction. Some persons deal with this tactic by ignoring the promise of the offerors not to alter their initial positions and by articulating realistic offers of their own. They hope to generate typical adult-to-adult discussions that will allow the initial offerors to begin to retreat from their seemingly resolute positions.

            Although Boulwareism may work against less competent negotiators, it will rarely intimidate proficient bargainers. It is likely to turn them off and cause them to contemplate their nonsettlement options. Persons considering the use of best-offer-first tactics should realize the offensive impact such an approach has on opponents. It is more effective to begin the discussions with lower offers or higher demands and allow the other side to talk them up or down to where they initially thought the parties would conclude their interactions. This approach is much more likely to satisfy opponents who wish to feel they were respected and allowed to influence the final terms agreed upon.

  1. Limited Client Authority


            Many negotiators like to indicate when they commence bargaining encounters that they lack authority to bind their principals. Some persons who actually possess real authority make such representations to avoid being  bound before they have the time to consider terms tentatively agreed upon or to use the Nibble Technique that will be discussed next. Others make such representations based upon the fact they must actually obtain the approval of absent clients before terms can become final.

            The advantage of limited authority concerns the ability of such negotiators to bind their opponents without binding themselves. Once their opponents have become psychologically committed to agreements, they are likely to make additional post-“agreement” concessions to preserve the arrangements they think have been achieved.

            Negotiators who are told by opponents that such persons lack the authority to bind their principals may wish to indicate a similar constraint on their own side. This means that no agreement can become binding until the principals on both sides have had the opportunity to review the tentative terms already reached. Another way to deal with such opponents is to let them know when terms have been preliminarily achieved that this side has absolutely no additional room to move. They can indicate that if the other side demands further changes, the agreement will be lost.


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February 2007