The on-going negotiation between the NBA and their locked-out referees provides a very useful negotiation lesson to anyone who has a boss, board or a constituency.
First, to summarize the negotiation’s current status, a deal had been tentatively struck last month between the parties but was then rejected by the refs’ executive board at the last minute. It was then subject to a vote by the referees, who voted it down.
This two-step approval requirement on the side of the referees illustrates an important negotiation tactic – and one that gave them a structural advantage in the negotiations.
What is it? The Higher or Limited Authority move.
It occurs when one side constantly defers to a “higher authority” to make any substantive move and says they just “don’t have the authority.” How should you respond? Explore the extent of your counterpart’s authority early in the negotiation. Then, to the extent you can, match it. Generally, it’s disadvantageous to have more authority than your counterpart because you can concede – and often do – while your counterpart can’t.