Negotiating Tip #16:
Don’t be Intimidated by Authority
One of the most effective ploys that the other side can use in a negotiation is to refer to authority. That can take many forms: “our policies do not allow that,” “this is how everyone does it,” “this product will definitely do what we say it will.” We at Mobus Creative Negotiating warn: do not accept these claims without testing them. Modern research shows how deeply ingrained is the tendency to accept authority. Pennsylvania State University’s Alan Wagner has shown how much people will accept claims of authority even when the claim is demonstrably wrong. Wagner studies robots programmed to be wrong, and it is stunning to see how blindly people follow the robots. In an emergency evacuation scenario, people followed a robot that half the time bungled its navigation.
Most people followed the robot when it suggested evacuating by entering a dark room blocked by furniture with no visible sign of an exit, instead of following the exit signs. In similar research, University of Utah’s Joanna Bryson found, “If the robots all started going towards the exit in a theater, a bunch of humans would follow them without thinking about it” (see Carolyn Johnson in The Washington Post, August 17, 2018).
The lesson for negotiators is: do not necessarily accept claims of authority. The “expert” does not necessarily know what he is talking about. When the other side makes a claim that sounds dubious, do not accept it on the basis of the evidence or expertise they offer: use your common sense and do your own research.