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Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 17: Uncover Self-interest

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

A successful negotiator, as defined by the classic laws of power, is the one who can get others to agree to something they normally would not do. Since the control of others’ behavior is a difficult task, Machiavelli strategists, for example, make the most of manipulation tactics to ensnare others into agreement. However, as we have addressed throughout the 48 Laws series, the manipulative treatment of others does not often guarantee sustainable or satisfying outcomes.

In the contemporary interdependent environment, a mastery of social engagement skills is now required. In this week’s law, we will explore the brain science of human motivation and why uncovering your own and others’ needs and interests can yield more efficient and successful agreements.

In previous laws, we have begun to explore the complexity of self-interest for negotiators. The knowledge and ability to understand what motivates us as negotiators and how we can influence others is a central focus in negotiation preparation. My study of negotiators from numerous industries, areas of the globe, and diverse professions has uncovered a constant theme despite all these differences.

A fundamental problem for many negotiators is that they are unaware of how complex their needs really are in a negotiation. As a result, negotiators often do not understand what motivates them to behave the way they do despite all their preparation. Recently, I discovered interesting research about the science of motivation and how this can provide a practical solution for negotiators who want to master their negotiation skills.

In his latest book, Daniel Pink points out that the “operating system” of laws, social customs and tactics about motivation are undergoing dramatic change. We are moving, he says, from the Motivation 2.0 version about our understanding of external incentives that drive behavior through reward structures. Latest neuroscience research concludes today how the human brain’s decision making machinery is largely driven by intrinsic versus external reward structures.

In negotiation language this means that the classic tradition of threats or promises, for example, do not fundamentally motivate decision makers to comply with requests or demands. Pink has developed a framework for the Motivation 3.0 version operating system, which outlines the keys to how and why internal rewards and interests drive human behavior. In negotiation, this means we become conscious of the reasons why we seek the ends we do.

Internal rewards are often a sense of accomplishment, connection to others and the need to make one’s own choices. This is valuable insight for negotiators who strive to enhance their influence and social engagement skills.

Pink has explored the world of behavioral economics and self-determined theory to provide keys to what motivates decision makers. A Twitter summary of his thesis is that “carrots and sticks are so last century – in the 21st century, we need to upgrade” to a better understanding about choice, mastery and purpose.

He points out that science already has proved that the key to motivation (for ourselves and in order to influence others) is in knowing more about our intrinsic needs to make our own choices, learn about and practice what interests us, and to have a sense of purpose.  Mastery, as defined by Pink, requires a mindset and interest in becoming better at something that really matters to us.

An optimal negotiation experience, for example, is the result of engaging yourself and others in activities that meet significant and meaningful needs.

When negotiations are routine, external rewards such as a revenue goal, money or targets may need to be the primary focus of preparation. However, if the “quick fix” of short term or wealth maximization as the primary goal is not satisfying or sustainable for you, you will discover that your interest and energy as a negotiator will become depressed and ineffective.

Instead, your vitality as a negotiator and your ability to engage others can be increased if the negotiation results in the achievement of meaningful goals.

Recently, James, a former student, shared a story of how he transformed a team negotiation of anxiety and dread to one of vitality. The team had worked together for six months on a consulting report for a client. His focus had constantly been on time pressure of the project, which made him tense, irritable, fatigued and unfocused.

As the team leader, he became alarmed that all the incentives he employed to motivate the team to work together failed. The more he offered contingencies to them (such as, if you complete the surveys, then you can take the weekend off) the more lethargic them team became. The whole project felt like a burdensome cross to bear.

When James became aware of the 3.0 Motivation system, he took the steps to make the project engaging and rewarding for him and those he negotiated with each day. He thought about ways which he could engage them to see the project as a way to learn, create and to provide something of value for the client. In his negotiation with individual team members, he discovered that they had many ideas about how to direct and design the research.

He presumed that the team would respond to the rewards he promised, but soon realized that his control of the design process did not engage the best of their ideas and desires to create and contribute. The targets themselves were not sufficient impetus to get the team to work overtime.  However, as the team became more engaged and he was conscious about their desires to contribute as well, there was a stronger performance and positive sense of well being for him and his team.

I encourage you this week to uncover with more clarity your own needs that drive your motivation as a negotiator. In addition, pay attention to how you encourage others to be curious, how you provide them the choice versus manipulating them to make decisions; and how you engage them to explore the ways in which they would like to create and pursue something that give others a sense of purpose in the negotiation.

Law 17 reflection questions

1. Does your negotiation planning focus too much on getting compliance from another or ways to engage others?

2. What would make a negotiation interesting, challenging, and energizing for you?

3. How do you provide useful information to others rather than control the negotiation process?

Extra Credit

For more information on motivation read, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink (Riverhead books, 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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