Playing With Power: How To Use It And Not Get Used By It

When you play with power you need to be very, very careful
When you play with power you need to be very, very careful

Image Credit: larryfishkorn

Who gets what out of a negotiation is often determined not by what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used but rather by who has the most power. This is actually sort of an amusing thing because of the very nature of power – we can’t see it, we don’t know who has it and who does not, and it can flow from one person to another very quickly. What all of this means for us as negotiators is that we need to take the time to understand how power works in a negotiation and, more importantly, how we can make it work for us.

Power Is All About Perception

Since we can’t see power, both sides of the negotiating table are going to be spending their time trying to guess just exactly how much power the other side really has. What this means for you is that the amount of power that you really have during a negotiation comes down to just exactly how much power the other side thinks that you have. If they believe that you have the power to determine if they’ll leave the negotiating table happy or unhappy, then you really do wield the power to determine how this negotiation turns out.

The good news for you is that the other side views your negotiating strength based on what is currently going on in their heads. What this means for you is that if they are thinking the right thoughts, then you really don’t need to have a strong position in order to do well in your next negotiation as long as the other side thinks that you have one – it turns out that everything is subjective.

The other side is always going to be “running the numbers” trying to determine if their probable cost of rejection currently is greater than their possible cost of acceptance. If it turns out that getting rejected is more expensive than getting accepted, then they are going to be willing to go along with whatever you have proposed to them. Once again, it all comes down to what the other side believes your power attributes currently are.

Power Does Not Play Sides

It’s sorta funny because as much as we all understand that power plays a big role in determining how a negotiation turns out, many of us shy away from it. It’s almost like “power” is a dirty word to us. The reason that I associate with this kind of behavior is because a number of us have had a bad experience with someone who had power over us at some point in our lives. The end result of all of this is that many of us have become apprehensive when we encounter people who are either seeking power or wielding power.

We need to get over this hang-up. It turns out that our issue is not really with power itself, but rather with how power has been used in our past. The good news about power is that it is both a desirable attribute and, if used correctly, can provide you with a sense of mastery over your life. What we need to realize is that if we reject power and don’t seek it out, then in the absence of power the best that you can hope for is to find yourself in a situation of dependency where what you want will be at the whim of others.

If we take a careful look at power, then what we’ll discover is that power is neutral. This means that it is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. All too often it’s easy to overlook power in a negotiation because it can’t be measured. Many people prefer to not discuss power out of politeness. In the end, what we all need to realize is that power is always in the eyes of the beholder.

What All Of This Means For You

Power is what determines who gets what out of a negotiation. The side that has the most power is in the best position to get what they want out of the negotiations. The funny thing about power is that we can’t actually see it. Power is something that is perceived. This means that you don’t actually have to have power in order to use power.

Since power is all about perception, it’s up you to make sure that the other side believes that you have more power than they do. If they think that you control their ability to leave the principled negotiation either happy or sad, then you have the power. “Power” is not a bad word even though some of us may have bad associations with it because of how we’ve been treated in the past by people who had power. We need to understand that power is neutral – it doesn’t take sides. If you can get more power than the other side, then you’ll have a better chance of getting what you want from the negotiations.

The next time that you enter into a negotiation, you need to be aware of the power that is present at the table. You’ll bring some, the other side will bring the rest. You’ll want to make sure that the other side believes that you have more power than they do. Don’t worry if you don’t think that you do, remember that power is all about perception!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you decide that the other side has more power than you do, what can you do to change this?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As we prepare for our next negotiation, we go through a mental checklist of all of the things that we need to do. We make sure that we know who we’ll be negotiating with, we make sure that we understand the issues that will be discussed and we know which ones are the most important to our side. We may have even done some background checking on the people on the other side of the table. However, sometimes we forget to do the most important thing of all. This is to stop for a moment, and double check to make sure that we believe in what we are doing.