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Friday, July 17, 2009

Power-based Negotiation

Maximizing the power in your counterpart to achieve your goals
by Steven Brown

I broached the topic of power in one of my recent negotiation skills courses. This is a difficult topic to teach because it requires mental gymnastics. In my experience a person forms a concept of power from their life journey, from the people they grow up around, and how they view their place in the world. As children we begin life powerless, and the path to maturity and wisdom is marked by growing our self-empowerment.

Therefore, I firmly believe that to become enlightened one must become empowered. One must master power and its application. In fact, I believe the ultimate achievement of enlightenment is to fully embrace "power with" versus "power over". But I perceive that most people stay in the "power over" domain for most or all of their life.

Therefore, many of my negotiation students find the topic of power to be challenging. One of the most illuminating examples we discuss is parenting of children. I believe that my job as a parent is to empower my children, to show them the power they have available to them, even when that power can be used to get control over me. This discussion usually causes a great disturbance, which is exactly how personal growth happens.

Sources of Power

There is much study on the subject of power. Machiavelli wrote a book called "The Prince", which might be characterized as how to maximize power, when you remove all consideration of ethics. What most published material attempts to do is divide power into consumable concepts, usually through allegory.

Here is a slightly different approach. This is a list of the sources of power, providing a way to self assess, or situationally assess, power.
  • Creativity - the more ideas you can come up with the more you can achieve
  • Physical - the bigger, stronger, faster, smaller, heavier, etc. the more you can achieve
  • Charisma - the more you wow people, the more you can achieve
  • Expertise - the more you know, the more you can achieve
  • Legal - the more the legal decision structure is in your favor, the more you can achieve
  • Printed - what is printed is true, and can help you achieve your goals
  • Legitimate - you have been approved by those in authority to achieve your goals
  • Vested interest - you have spent {time, money, emotion, etc.} and therefore have a say over the outcome
  • Expectation - by setting the expectations of others, you increase their willingness to cooperate
  • Relationship - the context of past and future intentions may imply obligation to cooperate





  • Style - flair that attracts people increases their likelihood of cooperating
  • Resources - your ability to give, share, apply, or leverage resources can be motivating or threatening
  • Flexibility - the more able you are to change to achieve the end goal, the more likely you'll find a way to the goal
  • Endurance - your ability to last longer increases your likelihood of getting what you want
Using Power in Negotiation

Let's assume for a minute you have a win/win negotiation relationship. What is the role of power in achieving the win/win outcome? I believe power is offered as a gift, an incentive to enrich the total outcome. For example, if you have a vacation home that is empty for the month, and the cleaning people are already paid to show up at the end of the month, it is possible that this house, a resource, could be added to the win/win negotiation as an incentive to get the outcomes you seek. You can apply this abundance mentality to every one of the sources of power when you have a win/win negotiation. It can be an immense pleasure to creatively find ways to offer your power to those that help you win in return!

How practical is this? Aren't most negotiations win/lose and combative? This is an excellent question and one that gets to the core of how one approaches life. If you are oriented to win/win, to abundance, you have a tendency to meet people with offers to share power. You remind people what you have you are willing to share. You deflect the attempts to control you with ease. You can engage people playfully and dance around their attempts to take from you. All the while being open to give, to share, to benefit others while gaining your own goals. This approach to life requires a confidence, a flexibility, a centeredness on ones power.

Personal Growth == Growing Power

At the core of growing in life is changing one's relationship to power. Frequently people choose to disempower themselves, and thus hold themselves at a plateau of achievement and happiness in life. It is self-imposed limits that create the hold. Those limits come from how you view power, the self-talk you use to describe yourself and your place in the world. Words are very powerful, whether articulated or simply replayed as thoughts.

One of the lessons I teach in my negotiation courses is the language of win/win versus win/lose. The words and behaviors of those who seek to control. An educated negotiator listens for these clues when getting started.

Empowering Others

It can be quite a challenge to negotiate for what you need and want while simultaneously helping your counterpart see and grow their power. But that is the life of someone that lives and negotiates win/win.

4 comments:

Brian said...

I think you're confused. We could have a long conversation about this topic, but I'm not certain it would make much difference.

Steve Brown said...

That's a common reaction from my students...doubt, skepticism, anger even. Then those that truly grasp their potential in life see the opportunities that are opened to them, and they make a significant leap forward in their effectiveness.

I would welcome the long conversation because I have deep passion for the topic.

Akiva Michelson said...

Steve,
It's always a pleasure to read your insights.
Certainly food for thought.

Akiva

Crystal Rector said...

Definitely a thought-provoking topic, and one I would like to study more in-depth. Unfortunately, due to a current power-struggle I am facing (which I will give more thought to turning win-win), I do not have the time at the moment...



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