Since agreement requires mutual consent, negotiation necessarily includes the possibility of disagreement. Parties may discuss terms of settlement but they can also refuse to agree to the terms demanded by the other side.
Put another way, negotiation means that both sides have the right to disagree with each other, the right to say no. But to be meaningful, the right to say no must include the power to do something about it. This is what is sometimes referred to as bargaining strength or leverage.
A negotiator’s bargaining strength is the product of his readiness to walk away from the bargaining table to the disadvantage of the other party. It may be sufficient if the negotiator is able to convince the other side that he is prepared to walk whether or not he means what he says. A negotiator’s skill may include his ability to mislead his opponent about his true bargaining strength and intentions.
Parties may enter into discussion with their mind closed to any changes in their position. A demand for unconditional surrender specifically leaves no room for negotiation. Under the law governing the relations of management and labor, the parties are obligated to bargain in good faith on wages, hours and working conditions. What constitutes good faith can be a matter of contention. But the law specifically states that the duty to bargain collectively does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession. This is an affirmation of the right of the parties in a negotiation to say no. It affirms that collective bargaining is a true form of negotiation.
The ideal situation in negotiation is what is sometimes referred to as a level playing field with each side possessing relatively equal bargaining strength. The point is that the right and power to say no are indispensable ingredients of a true negotiation, even though the extent of a negotiator’s bargaining strength may vary with his power to say no.
For example, an assailant with a gun at a victim’s head has more bargaining strength than the victim might care to acknowledge. A beggar may plead for alms but there is little he can do if turned down. The range of difference between negotiating from strength or weakness lies in the ability of the negotiator to say no and confidently end the discussions.
The employer who boasts that his door is always open may be ready to hear what his employees have to say. But he is clearly retaining his right to say no if he is so inclined.
The Constitution of the United States requires the “advice and consent of the Senate before a Supreme Court Justice can be seated. Advice by itself would give the Senate little negotiating leverage. With consent, the Senate has bargaining strength in negotiating with the President since it has the unqualified right and power to say no.
Jack Benny, who projected himself on television and radio as a dedicated tightwad, expressed uncertainty about his relative bargaining strength when he hesitated as an assailant demanded his money or his life. He was simply reflecting on his relative bargaining strength.