The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding

Laws of Power 42: Observe the Rights of Others

By Karen S. Walch

Classic power strategies are founded on the moral obligation to make the most of one’s own self-interest. Philosopher Ayn Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness, for example, asserted that it is a rational and moral right to maximize one’s own self-interest. Like other classic philosophers, she asserted that one’s self-centeredness and happiness are the highest values, virtues and purpose of human existence. This week we continue with the topic of rights-based negotiation approaches in the context of interdependent self-interest. This week’s law expands on previous Laws 15– 20 (redefinition of self-interest for contemporary negotiators). In particular, we will explore here the legal principle to observe the rights of others in the pursuit of your own rights protection.

Not only is it critical to attend to your own rights (Law 41), but it is also important to recognize that the freedom to achieve your own goals must not violate the rights of others.

In an impasse, breakdown, or seemingly intractable conflict, it is often difficult to remember to recognize the rights of others when our interests are threatened. The utilization of a rights-based negotiation approach requires a disciplined understanding of the legal roots, for example, of both the positive and negative dimensions of rights protection. Your counterpart in a contentious or rights-based negotiation has a “negative” right not to be subjected to your abusive or coercive actions. This imperative practically means that as you pursue the protection of your own rights it is your duty to maintain the rights of others.

Your “positive” rights are guaranteed by laws, codes of conduct, and standards in the jurisdictions of your various negotiations. This freedom of action to pursue your own fulfillment and enjoyment of life is to be free from compulsion, coercion or interference by others. Negotiation provides a valuable tool to achieve your goals in the context of such liberties. Therefore, when you believe a negotiation counterpart is not conscious of your rights and uses deception, traps, and ‘smoke screens’, you may need to utilize a rights based strategy.

Last week spoke of ways to harness emotions in a constructive way in order to assert your rights protection. Since many negotiators experience ‘anticipatory anxiety’ about an upcoming contentious negotiation, lawsuit, or hearing, it is important to remember how stress can make it especially difficult to appreciate the rights of others. Legal advocacy and mental performance techniques, for example, can be enhanced in order to recognize the rights of others in the pursuit of your own self-interests.

“Adriana”, an executive who had filed and won a lawsuit against her former employer, recently said that she learned a lot about how to utilize a rights-based approach when she thought of it like a marathon. In the athletic dimension of her life, she read often about the relationship between anxiety and performance. She said that the lawsuit, like a competition, was ‘nerve wracking’. She learned from her trainer for marathon competitions that nerves can propel outstanding achievement or they can destroy your self-confidence. In human performance research she also read that too little anxiety is known to bring about apathy and weak motivation and too much anxiety sabotages any attempts to do well.

After many integrative attempts to negotiate with her employer about a contract payment, “Adriana” switched styles and obtained a lawyer to negotiate on her behalf. She had become extremely pessimistic and vengeful about the lack of commitment by her employer to pay what she was owed for a completed project. As “Adriana” became more prepared on the strategic level with her attorney, she also learned to manage her emotions and behavior so as not to let her resentment “drain” her. She noticed that the despite this set back with her employer she was able to maintain an optimism and strong expectation that the situation would turn out okay. She found that the clarity and disciplined preparation served as a buffer against her hopelessness and depression about her situation.

In particular, “Adriana” found that she was able to respect her employer and treat their team in a respectful and constructive way. She was able to manage her impulses not to libel and/or “steal” from them in some way to get even. Her emotional resources of persistence, patience and optimism, she said, allowed her to pursue a legal way to protect her rights.

“Adriana’s” case points out how discipline and constructive planning allowed her to respond actively, formulate a plan of action, and seek out help and advice. Optimism can motivate a clear path toward study and planning for a conflict. Mastery as a rights-based negotiator means one develops self-efficacy and can meet the challenges as they come up by following the laws and standards that apply. The next time you need to seek out a rights-based solution to a demanding challenge, remember that your counterpart has the right to do so as well.

Practical action steps to remember for Law 42:

1. You have the right to ask for what you want and allow your counterpart to do the same.

2. You have the right to say no without feeling guilty or selfish and allow your counterpart to do the same.

3. You have the right to maintain dignity and respect the rights of your counterpart.

Law 42 Extra Credit

Read Ayn Rand’s classic The Virtue of Selfishness (Signet Press, 1964). Here is an excerpt: “There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level.”

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.