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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 8: Develop Social Intelligence

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

When Sun-Tzu espoused The Art of War in the fourth century B.C, and Niccolo Machiavelli produced “The Prince” as a framework for the laws of power in the 16th century, an entire nation would be ruled by only one king or emperor. Courtiers, military officers and ministers would fiercely compete with each other for access to limited elite economic, political and social resources. The competition for power often became a vicious battle of all-or-nothing wins and losses. This week we will address the fact that over the centuries, power has gradually become democratized and much more diffused.

Power has changed in the numbers of those who can possess and leverage their own authority and prosperity. The diversity of who can exercise and benefit from power has also increased dramatically. There remain, of course, “tyrants” with their small fiefdoms of centralized power who monopolize political and economic capital and intimidate with destructive tactics. However, with the advent of social change movements and increasing access to vital information and political and economic expertise, the nature of power has changed significantly. We as negotiators now can exercise and benefit from this domain.

Globalization has had a crucial impact on this democratization of power and our opportunities as negotiators. Contemporary 21st century negotiators are not the first to experience the opportunities and challenges for global wealth creation. However, in contrast to ancient (5000 BC) and modern (1600-1800 AD) periods of intercultural and technical connectedness, contemporary negotiators are faced with “accelerated” globalization.

Today the volume and diversity of information, migration, movement of goods and services are momentous and travel at quantum speed. We are all challenged with an abundance of information and limited time and attention about what level of power and prosperity we want to achieve for ourselves.

Most scholars and business practitioners agree that globalization is shaped by technological change and that power centers become reconfigured. However, what is still debatable is how globalization can be managed and sustained. A fundamental question is whether increased environmental, economic and political interdependence also requires a requisite change in subjective consciousness about self-interest and cooperation.

I subscribe to the school of political economists (remember your political economy theorists!) who assert that cooperation and trust-building institutions and negotiation strategies are the only realistic measures to adopt in order to solve most to all problems that negotiators face in the contemporary market.

There is an interesting convergence of the “new” theories of political economy, systems theory, quantum physics and neuroscience, just to name a few, of how cooperation as a mindset and a competency becomes a source of power in contemporary negotiations. Cooperation emerges as a result of increasing discord and insecurity. Cooperation reduces the costs of coordination and information sharing among negotiators and manages uncertainty.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the social brain is uniquely sensitive to the world at large and that globalization is reshaping our brains to become more intelligent about the realities of an interdependent social world.

In my study and observation of cooperation, it is clear that globalization has affected the patterns of cognition, curiosity and adaptive capabilities of global negotiators. Increased prosperity and satisfying negotiated outcomes become essential in the pursuit of the acquiring power. Cognitive ability, psychological attributes of optimism, resilience and self-efficacy have become valued attributes for global negotiators.

Specific development and competencies of social intelligence are critical for cooperation and influence in the contemporary global and multicultural workplace and personal relationships. The increasing scope, character and timing of globalization have led to a contemporary awareness of growing global interconnectedness and ways to manage and shape global conditions.

Outdated world views on power are inadequate for dealing with the globally interconnected world. There is a radical shift in the perception, thinking and values about self-interest, cooperation and power. Systemic and deep ecology scientists point out that from a systemic point of view, the only viable solutions today must meet mutual and immediate needs and be sustainable.

In order to succeed with these goals in mind, negotiators who develop social intelligence are those who can facilitate agreements that satisfy the immediate needs of a negotiation problem without diminishing the prospects for future prosperity.

The negotiators who achieve power in most contemporary negotiations are those who can get what they need in a highly socially integrated and networked world. Social intelligence skills impact levels of prosperity, achievement and satisfaction with disciplined cooperation skills. Here are a few of the steps taken:

A. Think of negotiators as problem solvers. Do not think of other negotiators as an adversary, but as a fellow problem solver.

B. Do not dig into a position or change it easily. Spend time to get below the hard positions taken in a negotiation and search for the underlying interests.

C. Know that trust can be developed. Learn to use trust building tactics and problem solving steps to develop trust and rapport.

D. Don’t search for a single answer. Develop ways to brainstorm about a creative range of potential solutions rather than demanding a single solution.

Law 8 Exercise

As an exercise this week, choose a personal or professional negotiation you recently or currently are involved in and think of how many of these steps you utilize in your negotiation. When you note that you have used one or some of these, what were the results to getting what you needed to achieve in the negotiation. If you do not use any of these steps, what impact does this have on what you hoped to achieve and how satisfied you were with the results. Cooperation skills seem relatively easy and we do it unconsciously; however, a conscious practice of cooperation skills can be rewarding.

Extra credit

For more resources read After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the Political Economy, by Robert O. Keohane (Princeton Press, 1984) and the Web of Life: New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems by Fritjof Capra (Anchor, 1997).

48 Laws for 21st Century Global Negotiators: Join Thunderbird Professor Karen S. Walch, Ph.D., as she explores the laws of power for 21st century global negotiators. Each Monday she discusses one law and provides an exercise to identify and enhance individual negotiation power. Go to the main menu for the series.

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