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Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 41: Attend to Your Rights

By Karen S. Walch

Classic hardball negotiators can be dominating and, at the extreme, capable of violating your rights as a negotiator. Historic power philosophers, such as Machiavelli or Hobbes, believed in the pursuit of inherent individual egoism. Egoistic domination of others in a negotiation is considered to be moral and functional as a means of preventing the disintegration of social and political order. This week’s law will address how a counterpart’s classic power approach to negotiation can often lead to the violation of your own rights as a negotiator.

On occasion, you may face negotiators who lack the expertise and power of integrative negotiation experience, and will rely solely on classic egoistic approaches to negotiation.

This can lead to either the perception or the reality that your rights and interests are of no concern to your counterpart. Therefore, you must prepare to attend to your own rights protection in these situations.

Sometimes you may need to get a hardball or manipulative negotiator to the table, set a precedent, or obtain a ruling by adopting a rights based approach in the negotiation. Because of a counterpart’s lack of experience or awareness, a rights based approach can get the manipulator’s attention.

Your ability to style switch to a rights based strategy can obtain the responsiveness you need in order to protect your rights and encourage your counterpart’s responsibility to behave accordingly.

If your preference is to utilize an integrative negotiation strategy but are called upon to switch to a rights based strategy, this contentious approach can be uncomfortable. In extreme cases when your security and identity are threatened, the flood of peptides, hormones, and adrenaline can hijack your strategic thinking.

In neuroscience terms, this primal need to protect ourselves often leads to irrational and destructive behavior.

Therefore, in order to constructively plan, protect your rights and to negotiate effectively it is important to know how to manage your brain! Neuroscientists point out that fear “can take over the brain in a millisecond if threatened.”

Successful negotiators are knowledgeable of how the amygdala can hijack rights based strategic thinking. Many negotiators have reported that when they have needed to adopt a contentious approach it was critical to know how this can trigger a strong emotional reaction.

Many often realized after some time had passed that their fearful reactions were extremely inappropriate (some say, stupid!).

In order to derive the most powerful impact with a rights based approach, preparation is required on not only the strategic level, but also the psychological and philosophical dimension. In my work today, I observe some of the most successful negotiators are those who prepare on all of these dimensions.

The most significant examples are those who creatively combine elements from the best of old and the new of various sciences into their negotiation preparation. The “new” insights build on the emerging developments from brain and neuroscience.

Some of the “old” ideas derive from a wide range of thoughts about power, for example, from ancient philosophy of the Stoics.

The Stoics considered destructive emotions to be the result of errors in judgment. In this political philosophy, it is understood that one with power was a sage, or person of “moral and intellectual perfection,” and would not suffer from emotional hijacking.

I have noted that there are many modern day negotiators who still believe in the Stoic doctrine. This continues to be a popular and durable philosophy even though it began as a following throughout Greece and the Roman Empire in 100 to 500 AD.

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude. This philosophy about power was seen as a means of overcoming inherent destructive emotions in social conflict. This philosophy asserts that it was critical to become a clear and unbiased thinker because this allowed for one to understand the universal reason (logos).

A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving an individual’s ethical and moral well-being. This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; that is “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.”

As you think about attending to your rights in a contentious negotiation strategy, take time to reflect and understand your own philosophy about power. The most successful approach to utilizing a rights based approach is one that prepares to manage the potential destructive aspects of vengeance and revenge. The rights based strategy can be used effectively and appropriately with mindfulness about the need for action and protection.

Most negotiators today do not consider themselves students of political philosophy. However, they are (whether they are conscious of it or not!). All negotiations are founded on a philosophy of power and those who are more satisfied and effective are aware of their negotiation philosophy as a way of life.

The way one negotiates is the best indication of someone’s philosophy –- not so much what they say, but how one behaves. A rights based strategy can be adopted with “stoic calm” or destructive revenge. Your choice!

Rights to remember for Law 41:

1. You have the right to be listened to and taken seriously.

2. You have the right to be treated with respect.

3. You have the right to clarify and discuss problems with the person involved.

Extra credit

Read Book II, Part 1 of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121–180 AD), translated in 2005 by Jeremy Collier. Here is an excerpt: “Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together.”

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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