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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 20: Redefine Self-Interest

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

The Machiavellian moral and rational pursuit of egoistic self-interest is a critical cornerstone to classic negotiation strategies. Machiavellian strategists assert that the need to exert control over others is primary in the advancement of one’s own interests and the protection of the collective. This quest is often perceived as controlling behavior to many negotiation counterparts today and, thus, not respected or ultimately effective. This seeming oppressive behavior does not successfully resolve many of the complex personal and professional problems faced by many negotiators today. As we conclude our focus on self-interest in the series, this week’s law will explore ways to redefine self-interest and how to advance your interests and accomplish your goals without giving up your own needs or insulting your counterparts.

A mindful and systematic exploration about your self-interests and how to express them in the context of the social or organizational context is primary to the development of an effective negotiation strategy.

Machiavellian strategists tend to believe that their controlling actions are necessary and even morally right. However, their behavior often results in the opposite of what they want. Controlling negotiators often believe that they can clearly see what solutions are in the best interests of others when in fact these negotiators often lack awareness and have a distorted view about others’ interests.

In order to illuminate the intention to provide a solution, it is necessary to understand one’s own needs in context or in relation to others and vice versa. A psychological term for this is reorienting your self-interests from an egoistic to sociocentric one.

One does not give up on meeting one’s own goals for the sake of others, as an altruist would. However, a sociocentric orientation helps negotiators acknowledge realistically how not only one’s own, but also others’ self-interests are connected and secured though collaboration.

In a practical sense, negotiators who do not “really see or hear others,” even when intending to help them, may cause just the opposite. The intentions may be good but they often get the opposite of what they want because of perceived controlling behavior.

The lack of awareness drives such a negotiator off course and away from the intended results. A sociocentric negotiator, however, has a willingness to correct the course though engagement with others, listening, and can more readily recognize compatible interests.

An example related to me recently highlights how limited time, attention and resources make it exceedingly more difficult to pay attention to our own and others interests and needs in a negotiation. Amanda and Hans, both Thunderbird alumni, had a professional and personal relationship with each other as they developed a partnership in a small business.

They realized how the good intentions to cooperate with each other were tested in a typical limited resource environment many of us find ourselves in today. Their conflicting value systems, long days, and financial stress of a new business led to a breakdown of their “interpersonal bridge,” which was necessary to their personal connection and professional need to collaborate.

The disconnection and lack of attention to their own individual needs ultimately led to a sense of frustration and powerlessness which began to impact their personal and organizational health.

As a result of mindfulness and negotiation practices, they became more aware about not only the needs of their relationship and the business but also their own individual needs and interests. They were ultimately able to correct the course and create a more productive and satisfying work and personal situation.

They discovered that the more strongly they made connections to their own personal needs in the context of their relationship and the business the more they were able to create a more satisfying and secure relationship. Ironically, their sense of responsibility and insecurities about the fate of the business and the relationship were strengthened when they became clearer about their separate individual needs and interests.

They discovered that it was not only necessary to advance the interests of the business, but also to have a separate identity and boundary about their separate personal needs – to be separate but not disconnected.

As an introvert, Amanda was an “energy conserver” and was easily overwhelmed by the all the social networking demands of the business. Soon she defined and accepted her need to “recharge her batteries” with some quiet time and contemplation. Amanda was able to become much more creative and energized about the ideas and plans for the business.

As she learned to balance her need to create, Hans recognized that his need as an extrovert was to be much more active. He took over all the sales and marketing element of the business. He realized that he became energized by all the social activity of meeting with potential buyers. Hans, like a solar panel, needed the sun of activity to recharge his interest in the business.

With clarity, Amanda used her introvert capacity to observe, intuit and perceive market trends and design services which Hans enjoyed marketing.

Rather than judging the other as self-centered or controlling, Hans saw the value in Amanda’s capacity to read market needs, and Amanda appreciated Hans’ need for social networking and sales results. Both sets of talents are required for the success of their business. Their goal now is not to think alike, but together.

This week explore the many facets to an encounter with a negotiator with controlling behavior. Observe the ways in which you may feel exhausted or enraged by this behavior. At the core of these situations, observe how a deeper understanding about your own and others’ self-interests can illuminate your negotiation strategy. Consider the ways in which you can identify and advance your own needs in such an encounter.

Law 20 Reflections

1. How connected are you to your own inner inclinations, needs and identity?

2. How do you respond to a negotiator who tells you who you are and what you think?

3. How do you react to another negotiator who does not seem to hear or see you?

Extra credit

Read Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand and Deal with People who try to Control You by Patricia Evans (Adams Media, 2002) and The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney (Workman Publishing, 2002).

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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