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Are you maximizing power in negotiations?

By Paul Fisher1

Powerful negotiators, through preparation or psychological frame of mind, take action early in negotiations and seek to maintain momentum and control. They may have a sense of superior negotiation strength and may be risk takers. However, these negotiators might overlook negotiating techniques that can result in lost opportunities.

Powerful negotiators express positive moods and look for alternative solutions beyond the obvious. Powerless negotiators experience a great deal of self-inhibition triggered by fear of potential loss and of being overwhelmed. What follows are tools you can use to your advantage in negotiations.

Harvard Law School’s Project On Negotiation (PON) recently analyzed the impact of power in negotiation in a review of studies done at UC Berkeley, Stanford and by independent investigators. One study revealed having a strong walk-away position caused negotiators to be much more likely to make the first offer. The studies also concluded that making the first offer can produce a bargaining advantage. My experience is that this is true when the first offer is not extreme. First offers that are extreme can lead to an unproductive negotiation or mediation. The research concluded the powerful are more persistent than other negotiators and are more likely to strive toward more aggressive goals. This may enable integrative negotiations, the discovery of mutually beneficial tradeoffs that can increase value to both sides.

They also found that power, or the sense of power, real or otherwise, protects against aggressive or manipulative behavior by the other side. On the other hand, some power negotiators overlook the integrative potential and offered only the concessions necessary to reach a deal.

The research found that rather than entrenched thinking, power can lead to being more creative and identifying different solutions rather than conforming to constraints in the other side’s proposals. The powerful may also risk revealing their priorities and seek to learn the priorities of the other party (gaining perspective). This can create value for both sides by surfacing and exploring a greater variety of solutions. However, the down sides to power are a tendency to bluff, make threats and ultimatums which can lead to a competitive climate driving the negotiators further apart.

How to maximize potential when you are short on power? Just before negotiating with someone you know to be difficult, think about a negotiation in which you had a clear advantage, a strong walk away position. Recall your sense of confidence. This generates psychological power to guard against the opponent’s aggressive or bully tactics.

According to Harvard’s PON, “Power in negotiation is most effective when the powerful take time to consider their counterpart’s points of view, they harness the positive benefits of power, such as making first offers, without succumbing to excessive risk taking. Strive to possess power in negotiation — or simply feel powerful — and follow up with gaining perspective.”

1Copyright by Paul Fisher 2016