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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 18: Master Self-Interest

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

Balthazar Gracian, a 17th century thinker about power, once said, “The sole advantage of power is ability to do more good.” Like Machiavelli, his classic laws of power are most often associated with tactics of deception and duplicity. For his time, it was considered rational and moral to manipulate and lead others because it is for the good of the community or the state. The end goal of protecting the interests of the collective justified whatever tactical means were necessary to do so. Because humans were considered weak and needed to be manipulated for the common good, deception and trickery was required. However, today’s world where people are given more credit for understanding their own interests, the “ends justify the means” tactics often destroy trust and relationships in complex negotiations.

This week’s law will address how there is an increasing focus on mastery of one’s own self-interests (including the collective) and self-leadership tactics (versus manipulation) in order to negotiate outcomes that benefit the collective good.

Law 18 will continue to address some of the self-leadership research and how this has become a focus for many negotiators who want to parley agreements in the pursuit of not only their own interests, but also on the behalf of relationship concerns. Negotiators who consciously manage their own behavior prepare to influence and lead others though the use of a specific set of behavioral (how they act) and cognitive (how they think) tactics. With this self-directed leadership method, negotiators enhance their power because of their ability to self-correct and encourage constructive behaviors in the social context of negotiation teams, for example.

Much of the current research in self-directed leadership explores how decision makers can be conscious of their behaviors through self-observation, goal setting and self rewards and penalties.

Many of the study findings show that there is significant impact of raised awareness of when and why one engages in specific behaviors. It has also been shown that setting challenging and specific goals can considerably increase individual performance levels. For negotiation, this translates to more efficient, satisfying and sustainable agreements and relationships as a result.

Another was to think of this is to look at what negotiators commit their energy to in preparation. With traditional Machiavellian tactics, negotiators prepare to get “followers” to focus on and comply with a common goal. These tactics require external compliance (i.e., “carrots, sticks, persuasion”) techniques. This traditional focus sacrifices the time and energy devoted to clear recognition about how one’s own self-interests affect others around them.

Many negotiators have reported to me that negotiation mastery starts with an honest reflection about their own interests (egocentric) and to see those interests in the context of the collective interests (sociocentric).

Maria, a former executive student of mine, told me recently that her goal to increase her influence skills have been enhanced by mastering her understanding about her own self-interests. Although she has had some success with her debate and persuasion skills, she often realized that the process of negotiation had left her with a sense of alienation from others in her own negotiation team.

Upon reflection about the way she advanced her own self-interests in a negotiation, she realized how little she understood them in the context of her negotiation team relationships. Because it mattered to her that her internal negotiation teams listen to and respond to her persuasive arguments she began to commit more energy to understanding of her own need to be understood and feel appreciated for her communication talents. She began to use both “an intuitive” and strategic approaches to her own self-development and mastery about negotiation. Maria reports that a focus on not only her own emotions but also others’ needs within her own team has increased her sense of satisfaction as both a negotiator and a team member. She said that this illustrates how just this one small mindfulness practice can increase previous unrealized strength and vitality.

I often receive positive reports from negotiators who prepare on the various physical, emotional, social, cognitive and spiritual dimensions for a negotiation. Many of the most satisfied negotiators state that it is critical to clarify and align your values, purpose, and passions as a negotiator. Although at one time many of them did not enjoy negotiation, they now can connect more deeply with people and can break through obstacles to resistance as a problem solving negotiator. Some examples include agreements developed in partnerships of a start up company, creating a better application for funding by working with a loan officer, and maximizing success and satisfaction as an expat.

Although the academic “jury is still out” regarding the merits of self-determined leadership theory, some of the findings and anecdotal feedback I have received are that “using our brain to change the brain” about our behavior and motivation can yield more satisfying results. In other words, negotiators prepare to change the way they think about managing themselves before influencing others.

One conclusion that most neuroscience research agrees on is that humans continue to use a very small percentage of the brain’s potential. However, initial findings point out that mindfulness practices, for example, illustrate just how small corrections can yield much more potential than once was thought possible.

For those of you who are enthusiastic about self-directed leadership, it is a method that can be used to increase your power and vitality as a negotiator. Skeptics of this approach generally point out that the success of a mutual gains negotiation is not realistic in most cases. In reality, there is very little conviction and commitment by others not to pursue Machiavellian tactics.

Skeptics also affirm that we often do not get to chose who to negotiate with and that there is little readiness by others to think beyond their own ego centric self-interests. You decide what approach yields more power for you.

Reflections for Law 18

– How have you depended on external influences to guide your actions as a negotiator?

– What ways do you reward yourself for important accomplishments in a negotiation?

– Can you recognize when you are more effective with your negotiation skills?

Extra Credit

For more information on self-leadership theory and research read, “Two Decades of Self-leadership Theory and Research,” by Christopher P. Neck and Jeffrey D Houghton, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol.21, No. 2, 2006 and “Are We Ready for Self-Management?” published Sept. 1, 2006, by James Heskett.

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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