Nine Secrets of Negotiation Power
By Karen Walch, Ph.D.
I am a student of negotiation. Even though I have a doctorate and decades of practical experience and study in the field, I remain a student. Along with thousands of my students around the world, I continue to study and practice this fundamental activity of human behavior.
I discovered the field of negotiation through my graduate studies. As a political science Ph.D. candidate, I was required to learn the secrets of power. The philosophy of power is derived from Thucydides, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, von Clausewitz and other classical figures who advocate prudence, stealth, deception and manipulation.
These warriors, political advisers, historians and philosophers teach that mercy has no place at the negotiation table. The ones with power in a negotiation have the ability to control others into submission. They can make others do things they otherwise might not do. This is how one wins.
This approach works well when a problem can only be solved by crushing your opponent. But as a professor of cross-cultural negotiation at Thunderbird School of Global Management, I have observed a new set of laws for 21st century negotiators who live and work in a global economy. Rather than crushing their opponents, these negotiators often find themselves in situations where they must build lasting relationships of trust. They understand the miracle of trade and the value of shared mutual outcomes.
I explore this 21st century challenge in my new book, Seize the Sky: Nine Secrets of Negotiation Power. The seeds for this book germinated in graduate school when I read some of Mary Parker Follet’s work from the 1920s. Her early work focused on social behavior, the holistic nature of communities and reciprocal relationships.
Follet coined the terms “integrative” or “noncoercive power-sharing,” a departure from the classical notion of power as something to be wielded over an opponent. My book synthesizes the work of Follet and others with my own contributions. The focus is on the “power of understanding” method of negotiation in contrast to the historical “coercive power” approach.
The nine secrets I share provide guidance for negotiators who want to achieve outcomes that don’t come at the at the expense of others. If you need to share or divide a limited resource, create something new or resolve a conflict with someone, you might find these secrets helpful.
Master how you think
Inexperienced negotiators like to jump right into a negotiation. This often makes the process more frustrating and disappointing than it needs to be. The most critical way to increase your power in a negotiation is to ask the right questions and prioritize your goals during preparation.
There is a story in classic power theory about Joseph Duveen, a 1920s art dealer who wanted to negotiate with U.S. automaker Henry Ford to purchase the world’s greatest art collection. But Duveen did not do his homework. He did not know that Ford, although quite wealthy, had modest tastes. In the end, Ford did not want to buy any of the valuable paintings, but he was taken by the colorful art reproductions booklet Duveen had presented at the negotiation. Duveen ultimately gave Ford the art book and walked away from the negotiation empty-handed.
The lesson is: Think strategically and analytically, not instinctively.
Master how you feel
Emotions play a critical role in any negotiation. Classic negotiators study others’ emotions and hidden motives so they can prey on them. A more effective approach involves the practice of emotional intelligence, which starts with understanding and managing one’s own emotions.
The ability to manage destructive emotions is necessary for success. It is difficult to think strategically when anxiety, resentment or envy hijacks the logical left brain.
Master how you socialize
As a negotiator, your reputation will often precede you. Classic negotiators invest in their reputations to intimidate and demoralize their opponents. Modern negotiators seek to build their social capital through relationships of trust.
A negotiator who wants to increase positive social capital sees each interaction as an investment. A qualitative investment of time in relationship management contributes to an internal coherence for negotiation partnerships or groups. When agreements and relationships meet not only the present needs of the parties, but also enhance a sustainable future of the contract and relationships, the stock value of one’s reputation increases significantly.
Master how you perform
One of the classical keys to power is the ability to project a strong physical presence that will draw attention to you. Classic coercion methods often rely on delays and postponements as a way to wear down the will of opponents.
Successful negotiators using the power of understanding do not project a tough guy image or use delay tactics. Instead, they develop the habits and stamina of sustainable performers — similar to athletes who train for sports performances. The discipline of successful negotiators develops around an optimistic mindset, physical stewardship, energy recovery and nutrition as part of their negotiation preparation.
Master what you believe
In classic notions of power, deception experts calculate and plan precisely how to disguise their malicious intentions in a negotiation. They cultivate an air of honesty.
Successful negotiators today find little value in this type of trickery in a socially interconnected world. They believe that dirty tricks and manipulation come at a high price, not only in economic and social terms, but in psychological and spiritual matters as well.
Master how you orient yourself
Classical negotiators assert that the need to exert control over others is primary in the advancement of one’s own interests and for the protection of the collective. However, egoistic and controlling behavior is often ineffective when addressing the complex personal and professional problems that negotiators face today.
Any negotiator who plans to offer solutions to a counterpart must first identify their compatible interests and the potential for mutual gains by reorienting from an egocentric point of view to a sociocentric one. One does not abandon one’s own goals for the sake of others, as an altruist would, but a sociocentric orientation helps negotiators recognize that their own and other’ interests are connected.
Master what you want
A goal in the battle of classic coercive power is to get everything you want in a negotiation. Winning means claiming as much as you possibly can. Modern negotiators take a different approach. They operate in the perceived zone of value between two parties.
They understand it is within this perceived bargaining range that agreements are ultimately reached. They work to expand the perceptions about the zone’s boundaries through mutual adjustment and problem-solving dialogue before claiming. A more thorough understanding of what you want and what your counterpart wants can enhance the negotiation boundaries and the quality of the settlement.
Master your leverage
The possession of leverage is an essential requirement in classic coercive power. The word leverage originally referred to a positional advantage, based on the principle that a lever can lift a heavy weight when the fulcrum is place strategically. Now the word is often used as a verb, meaning that a negotiator can take action to force counterparts to yield.
A disciplined evaluation of leverage goes beyond what things the parties want and need but also considers how much they want and them.
Leverage for the power of understanding is an ability to engage untapped physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual resources often overlooked in preparing for a negotiation. Master negotiators often find ways to use their positional advantages to ensure that their counterparts also get what they want. The process can transform the negotiation from one of entrapment to a way to reach more satisfactory and sustainable solutions.
Master how you get what you want
Classically trained negotiators take a win-at-all-costs approach based on concealment, camouflage and deception. Others mimic this behavior because they do not know any other way. Master negotiators understand this reality. They adopt behaviors and strategies that motivate their counterparts to share critical information. They take an integrative approach to negotiation that applies all nine secrets shared in my book.
They use their negotiation experiences as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and others. Preparation and reflection lead to an increased ability to behave in more satisfying and successful ways to accomplish desired goals.
Karen S. Walch, Ph.D., is an associate professor and consultant at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona. She has an academic background in international negotiation, cultural competencies and global mindset.