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Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 26: Practice Counter Tactics

By Karen S. Walch

Much of the tactical training in classic power and Machiavellian negotiation asserts that it is necessary to concentrate your forces in order to destroy and weaken the will of your counterpart. The key to power is a single mindedness of purpose and absolute concentration on one’s goals and task to win at all costs. It is believed that this approach can be used successfully because most people live in a “state of distraction, and thus, a focused arrow will find its mark every time because it is easy to overwhelm and beat the distracted into submission.” This week’s law will focus on some of the classic hardball tactics which are used either intentionally or habitually by Machiavellian negotiators who count on distracted and unprepared negotiators and how to lead away from the hardball approach.

Aggressive and attacking behavior, intimidation, the nibble, take-it-or-leave it, high or low ball offers and snow jobs are some examples used by hardball negotiators. In previous laws, we have spoken of the potential tactic to respond in kind with hard ball tactics of your own; however, many negotiators prefer to change the game since hardback tactics often involve risk to reputation, high costs, lost deals, and negative results – such as revenge!

This week we will continue the exploration of counter tactics which can be used to shift to less aggressive methods of negotiation. In negotiation situations where the deal is a single transaction and a relationship is not important, negotiators may want to respond in kind with hard ball tactics in order to maximize the value obtained in this single deal. However, in most situations there are opportunities to lead a constructive negotiation process with mindfulness practices which can increase your psychological and strategic advantage. The decision to resist hard ball tactics, however, can be stressful and will demand high performance practices in order to change the game, NOT play the Machiavellian game.

This week’s Law will focus on tactical training in negotiation with a disciplined focus NOT on how to destroy your counterpart but how to lead them based on mindfulness practices. Today, I will draw on some of the practices and insights from Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), Mindfit, and Warrior Mind Training examples from neuroscience, security, and human performance research which have implications for negotiators in stressful negotiations. For some negotiators, hard ball negotiations and attempts to lead in a destructive situation are extremely stressful and can weaken performance (much like a battlefield).

This research examines “mindfulness” as a process of “bringing one’s attention to the present experience on a moment-by-moment basis and in a nonjudgmental way”. Mindfulness differs from a cognitive mode of processing information or thinking. In other words, paying attention is not the same thing as thinking, although we often equate the two. There is a growing body of scientific evidence which supports the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions, such as focus exercises and meditation. Many of the studies conclude there is an improvement in physical and psychological resilience, increased tolerance for difficult situations, attention, immune functioning, and positive mood and well being in stressful situations.

It has long been believed that stress is due to external events which degrade performance. However, stress is now defined as a perceived, internal condition. The right amount of stress will allow a negotiator to function at peak performance. However, excessive perceived stress has biological and psychological consequences that reduce the capacity to process new information and learn. Stress may also bias negotiators more toward reactive, unconscious emotional choices.

Mind Fitness Training and Performance Optimal programs used by several security forces train for capacities of mental agility, emotional regulation, attention, and situational awareness (of self, others, and the wider environment). Just as physical fitness corresponds to specific enhancements in the body, mind fitness practices have become prominent in high performance security training. The research asserts that enhancements in specific brain structures and functions support high performance capacities. Like physical fitness, mind fitness may be protective: it may build resiliency and lead to faster recovery from cognitive depletion and psychological stress. Training can improve self-regulation, adaptation, better attention skills, and enhanced situational awareness and agility.

Based on the neuroscience work about the neuroplasticity of the brain and inoculation from the world of medicine, the introduction of a stressful situation through training can vaccinate negotiators and increase their resilience against stress and hard ball negotiation attacks. Much like the awareness, knowledge and practices at West Point based Center for Enhance Performance, negotiators can build confidence, set goals and channel energy under stress through practice exercises.

Mindfulness practices can increase negotiation abilities to change the hard ball negotiation games. Through centering and mindfulness, the readiness to step back and confidentially raise your concerns can be more effective in a difficult situation. Some of the counter tactics include asking the other to come back to the issues later, listening for critical clues, or to ask that person for advice or support. In addition, these mindfulness practices can also help you to remember when you have been difficult to negotiate with! Most importantly, mindfulness practices can inoculate you from driving a larger wedge between you and your original negotiation goals and purpose – keep your eye on the prize.

Law 26 Exercises

Here is a hardball check list you can use for practice. When you observe the following, with mindfulness how would you respond?

1. Is the opening offer ridiculously too low or too high?

2. Are there continual requests for a small concession on items not previously discussed?

3. Is there a threat to force you into some stated demand?

Extra Credit

Read Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation’s Peacekeepers, 2010, Mike J. Askens and Loren W. Christensen

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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