Lewicki, Saunders and Minton (1997) describe commitment, as a key concept of negotiation, to taking a bargaining position with a pledge regarding a future intended course of action’. Once made, commitments may reduce your own and the other party’s range of options – for this reason it is important that you seek to prevent the other party from committing prematurely, or alternatively, secure an early commitment that is favourable to you. Commitments can also create tension between fixing negotiators into a favourable position and locking you out from other more desirable positions or courses of action (Lewicki et al: 1997).

Similarly, strategies that allow you to make a commitment, such as developing a strong Best Alternative to an Agreement – BATNA, or imposing the pressure of deadlines, restrict the other party’s options. However, it is recommended that you exercise caution in using commitments to force the other party into accepting an agreement as they may be less committed to seeing the agreement through (as outlined later in this post).

According to Lewicki (1997), commitments involve:

• A degree of finality (how and when the agreement is to be fulfilled by)
• A degree of specificity (the performance measure) and;
• A statement of consequences (what will happen if the promised outcome does not materialise as proposed)

Also, commitment requires follow up, for the failure to act on a commitment may result in loss of future credibility, trust or belief that you will follow through on any agreement or pledge in future. Similarly, if a party cannot deliver on a promise, they are likely to lose face. These observations should provide you with sufficient motivation to live up to your commitments or alternatively do not make commitments or promises that you cannot or do not intend to honour. Accordingly, Fisher and Shapiro (2009) advocate that we develop fair and realistic commitments that each party can live up to.

Mutual gain, principled negotiation strengthens the commitment of all parties involved. If an agreement results in one party feeling that they have been manipulated into accepting an agreement that is unfavourable and/or incurs an unacceptable cost to them, it would be safe to assume that their level of commitment to completing or making that deal work would be low.

Well crafted, written, formal and legally enforceable agreements (contracts) are used to clearly spell out and bind commitments. Alternatively, other, less formal strategies, such as ‘contingency bets’, risks to relationships and reputation, joint problem solving (providing ownership in rather than imposing decisions) etc, may be used to strengthen commitments and make them self enforcing. Lewicki (1997) advises that contingencies also allow you to shift from committed positions when it becomes obvious that the commitments no longer serve their purpose.

We have briefly touched on Commitment as the 7th key element of Negotiation – Your comments are welcome should you have any questions or suggestions on this topic.

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