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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

The Surprising Role of Legitimacy

Updated: Jan 30

As a negotiator, you'll do well to understand the importance of legitimacy. A concept closely linked to fairness.

Legitimacy refers to the perceived fairness and appropriateness of a proposed course of action, and it can greatly influence the willingness of both parties to cooperate and compromise. So, what does this actually mean?

How does it apply to your negotiations? Let's take an example of a key account manager trying to push through a price increase. Say the average inflation figures are around 5%, and the price increase being demanded is 18%. The question of legitimacy comes into play. Based on the likely information, the buyer has, a price increase of 18% versus a general inflation of 5% is outrageous, which hurts the legitimacy of the demand.

If the demand of one party in a negotiation is seen as illegitimate (unfair, unreasonable, unrealistic), the following risks occur:

  • One of the parties can be seen as untrustworthy or unreliable, which can damage the relationship moving forward.

  • Force one of the parties to capitulate resulting in the feeling of being coerced, ultimately putting future business at risk.

  • Create a deadlock situation.

  • Early escalation of the negotiation.

So, how do you ensure that the demands of a party are seen as legitimate? Consider the following:

  • Do you have a good background story or context to back up the demand?

  • Has the other party been sufficiently preconditioned to expect what is coming?

  • Is the demand a legitimate one: can you defend it while keeping your back straight?

By understanding and applying the concept of legitimacy in negotiation, you will ultimately increase the success of your negotiations.


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