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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 13: Improve the Past Gracefully

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

In classic notions of power, experts of deception calculate how to disguise their malicious intentions. They cultivate an air of honesty as a decoy in order to manipulate and mislead others. The appearance of friendliness and trustworthiness, according to classic power strategists, yields results because it is a basic human instinct to trust appearances. Con artists and predatory negotiators, for example, cleverly guide others “down a path of blinding smoke” that it is often too late when the unaware discover they have been manipulated. This week we will address how these devices of the past have been gracefully improved upon by many contemporary negotiators.

Historically, the tactics of deceit and manipulation were vital tools in order to survive in a static zero sum world of centralized power. Although negotiation habits of dishonesty and trickery persist, a predominance of negotiators I interview and observe today believe that the historical “trickery and games” do not yield satisfying results in a socially interconnected world.

Today, many of the classic manipulation tactics are considered to be rude, disrespectful, and often illegal, because they violate basic norms of contemporary negotiation civility. In general, the economic and social costs of deceptive tricks are too high versus the benefits of using such tactics. Research on workplace incivility shows that disrespectful behavior — such as taking credit for others efforts, blaming others for mistakes, spreading rumors about others, belittling or avoiding others’ efforts, or throwing temper tantrums — violates crucial norms of civility at a significant cost to organizations.

Many negotiators have reported to me how this kind of inconsiderate behavior infiltrates the norms and practices of negotiation in teams and organizations when no one corrects such disrespectful and deceitful tactics. Examples of destructive negotiation behavior can be found at all levels of positional authority in negotiations. Incivility research points out the people in positions of power may freely interrupt meetings or publicly chastise others at will. Those who may not have the position of power may deceitfully sabotage another’s work or hoard information required by others as a way to gain leverage.

Such negotiation behaviors ultimately create more stress and less satisfaction and success in negotiation exchanges.

Incivility research in the last decade points out that the negative consequences of bad behavior have become much more widespread than first anticipated. This research serves as a valid scientific framework about the financial and social costs associated with incivility in the workplace, in general, but also for negotiation interactions.

Most contemporary negotiators state that deceptions are too risky and can unleash incivility and destructive negotiation and power dynamics in social interactions.

Increasingly, I have observed that contemporary negotiators tend to believe that dirty tricks come at a high price not only in economic and social terms, but also in psychological and spiritual matters as well. Many negotiators today are on the search to change their own and others’ habitual pursuit of purely egoistic, reactive fear based, and manipulative negotiation behaviors. Not only is behavioral insight and development important on a practical and economic level, but it is also a valued personal psychological and spiritual desire to experience more satisfying and prosperous results in their negotiations, in particular, and their lives, in general.

Many negotiators, for example, who have habitually used Machiavellian behaviors in negotiation, often regret their behavior because of social exclusion and the lack of effectiveness as a result of this behavior in their negotiation interactions. In addition, those who have been victims of predatory behavior, often feel a sense of powerlessness, lack of energy and little desire to engage strategically with disrespectful negotiators. As negotiation interactions become an impersonal battle of wills, pure survival, and desensitized to human needs, many negotiators yearn for a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in their endeavors.

This is where preparation on just the cognitive and analytical level reaches its limit. It is the exploration and preparation on the psychological and spiritual dimension which can increase the necessary vitality and power for negotiators who want to pursue their goals both personally and professionally. While questions about one’s purpose and search for meaning, beauty and connectivity are often subjugated to the realities of making living and surviving in short term transactional negotiations, there tends to be an increasing frustration with the limits of linear thinking and tactics which do not address basic and transcendent human needs.

While economic crises, declining trust in institutional proclamations, and an impulse to rely on pragmatic and short-term solutions prevail, many negotiators continue to search for what is sacred and human in their negotiation interactions. Gentle improvements to Machiavellian habits make incremental change more enduring and less a target of resistance by those who see cooperation as a source of weakness, for example. On one hand, changes to negotiation habits may seem like a novelty and provide relief from boredom or frustration about the past habits. On the other hand, humans tend to hang on to habits of the past and in practice may not readily welcome inventive challenges to the hardball negotiation habits.

Law 13 Exercise

Here are several practices and rituals that many negotiators utilize in their search to use negotiation as a means to invest in and achieve not only their material, but also their spiritual and emotional needs:

– Notice your own negotiation habits that are potentially destructive and costly to your personal or professional relationships. Observe how yours or others’ rudeness and impatience comes as a result of time and commitment pressures. Consider how you can be more mindful of your bad behavior under stress. Think before you speak, listen fully, and turn of your cell phone!

– Be aware of how your desires for more meaning and purpose for your negotiations and life goals are minimized because of pragmatic and practical reasons. Practice mindfulness about how practices of incivility are reinforced when you subjugate your spiritual and psychological desires for short term solutions. Say “please” and “thank you” to others and to yourself for material and transcendent achievements!

– Note your frustration and reliance on reactive, fear based negotiation tactics when you rely predominantly on analytic and linear planning for your negotiations. Think about how you feel and what you believe in as you pursue your goals. Take a break, say a prayer, listen to the music and smell the roses!

Extra Credit

For an original and insightful research book on incivility read The Cost of Bad Behavior by Christine Pearson and Christine Povath (Penguin, 2009).

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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