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Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 28: Explore Forgiveness Tactics

By Karen S. Walch

Revenge in classic laws of power refers to purposeful retaliation in an attempt to seek justice. Acts of revenge are viewed by those who retaliate as a defensive act in response to an offender’s unwarranted and unfair behavior. In negotiation, when the offender makes a move in a negotiation that is viewed by the injured party as unjust, the victim will often feel the need to forcefully retaliate. In classic military terms, this can lead to violent responses. In personal or professional negotiations, this may take the form of refusals to cooperate, ignoring requests, or the use of exceedingly aggressive or legal and defensive negation tactics. This week’s law will address one of the most radical tactics used when revenge may be warranted in a negotiation with an attacker, manipulator or disrespectful negotiator. In addition to defensive revenge measures, skills and tactics of forgiveness also serve as a means to balance the power in an unfair negotiation situation.

Forgiveness and revenge are the two most common human responses to unjust behavior. When someone believes they have been the victim of undeserved behavior, the coping responses are either to seek revenge or to forgive and let go of the negative emotions attached to the circumstances. Revenge can be passive (such as refusing to provide needed resources, sabotage, or creation of rumors) or direct (such as assault, failure to protect another’s welfare, or yelling).

In personal and professional negotiations, revenge actions often entail antisocial behaviors that will negatively alter the perpetrator’s interpersonal effectiveness and reputation with others.

Forgiveness as a response can be radical and contradictory to most commonly held beliefs about injustice. However, the skills and discipline of forgiveness can conquer a situation that could potentially destroy one’s negotiation ability.

Forgiveness is not about letting the perpetrator “off the hook,” but to more acutely understand human shortcomings and misconceptions. The focus does not require a reconciliation with the offender (though often it can), but on repairing misperceptions within ourselves. It is about the choice about how to judge and deal with manipulative behavior.

If you have been treated unfairly, you have the right to be resentful or angry. However, forgiveness skills involve a rethinking about the meaning of forgiveness and your responses to intolerable circumstances.

Psychologists point out that forgiveness is a process that engages humans in a search for meaningful significance not readily apparent by outward appearances. Forgiveness is about finding the unique good within ourselves and others.

When victims are not able to release their judgments about injustice, they are predisposed toward harshness and impersonal views about others. However, as insight is gained about a perpetrators’ behavior and one’s own psychological defense mechanisms, victims reclaim their own vital and invigorating energy.

Rajan shared an example recently about a time he was able to manage a deterioring relationship with one of his partners in an architectural firm. He was excited the last several years about the potential to work with James, although he did not know him very well personally.

Rajan experienced disrespectful and manipulative behavior with James in their negotiations about the profit sharing arrangements for the business. James rarely shared information, used emotional ploys of anger, fear or guilt used to intimidate Rajan.

James employed a range of aggressive tactics in a relentless push for further concessions about Rajan’s share in the profits. As Rajan became more aggressive and intransigent about his own tactics to force James to make concessions, Rajan became extremely tense about the costs of his own revenge to get even with James.

Rajan had heard from a colleague that James wanted to find a positive way to resolve their differences, but did not know how. In addition, Rajan explored more about James’ background and experiences with others and concluded that James was not a narcissist or impossible to create a positive relationship with.

Because of Rajan’s intense need to be treated fairly, he realized he did not like the revenge tactics that he began to use himself. His indirect strategy was to undermine James’ legitimacy in the architectural community, sabotage projects James was working on, and withhold resources and assistance when James requested them.

It was exhausting!

In the meantime, health problems and memory difficulties began to take center stage in Rajan’s life. His physician prescribed several mind-body habits to help with the physical exhaustion. He began to accept the fact that he was extremely resentful about the way James was treating him and spoke with a colleague about the sense of injustice he felt about the situation.

However, Rajan also became more aware of why he ultimately was ceding a lot of his own power away and only reacting defensively to James in this situation. As Rajan understood his own tactics of revenge and sabotage, he understood why he was irritable and less effective in his professional interactions.

As Rajan began to feel more physically restored, he was able to accept his share of the responsibility for the way he exacted his justice through his indirect sabotage of James. Not only did Rajan forgive James for his aggressive behavior, but he also forgave himself for acting like a powerless victim in this circumstance.

He did not pardon or excuse the manipulative behavior, but did come to realize that the relationship with James needed to be reconciled and repaired before they were to continue to be partners in their business.

Rajan became less defensive and more energized, and he realized he had the spiritual and emotional reserves to apologize to James about his own stonewalling.

The most significant realization was that when James relayed his own story about the firm’s founding, Rajan realized how important James’ need was for recognition for his original ideas and commitment to the success of the firm long before Rajan became involved.

Rajan found it relatively easy to recognize James’ stature in the firm, and they were both able to move to a profit sharing that was fair and equitable. This opportunity allowed them to tap into more of the unique qualities and energies of both partners which have energized the business.

Law 28 Exercises

Steps to consider for forgiveness tactics. First of all, recognize that there is a universal need for revenge and make a choice to consider the idea of forgiveness:

1. What “unforgiveable” negotiation tactic has been used against you?

2. Acknowledge your own resentment and anger, and accept responsibility for your own manipulative tactics.

3. Be willing to look at the situation differently. Transcend the hatred for an opportunity to develop personal power to move beyond revenge choices.

Extra credit

For more information read Finding Forgiveness: A 7-Step Program for Letting go of
Anger and Bitterness
, by Eileen Borris-Dunchunstang (McGraw-Hill, 2006).

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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