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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 44: Design the Right Architecture

By Karen S. Walch

Classic negotiation strategies are crafted from the principles of political realism and power politics. The pursuit of self-interest and survival in a limited resource world is considered functional even though it may incite destructive patterns of social behavior in negotiations. It is believed that the “drive for power and the will to dominate are fundamental aspects of human nature.” Therefore, great negotiators design a strategy accordingly. This week we will address the need for an alternative architecture for contemporary negotiation strategies. Such a design can increase credible power, leverage and satisfaction in the 21st century.

As the Laws of Power conclude, we will focus on a design which better meets the needs of contemporary negotiators.

Any design, whether it is in building construction or in negotiation strategy, must meet fundamental principles of durability, utility and satisfaction. The integrative and problem solving approach upholds those doctrines.

Throughout the Laws of Power, we have contested the power of coercion and classic hard ball approaches to negotiation. In an increasingly multicultural and socially interdependent marketplace, the classic hard ball approach is losing its durability, utility and satisfaction for many practitioners. It is increasingly difficult to plan for and to execute a plan of coercion with certainty.

The high costs to relationships and economic/social stresses of coercive strategies have led to a search for approaches that are more effective and useful. An integrative negotiation strategy utilizes the power of understanding as a practical way to influence others.

The right architecture for a negotiation in a highly social environment requires a foundation of integrative and problem solving principles. Good negotiation strategic design practices begin with an accurate recognition of the problems negotiators continually face.

For most negotiators today, it is not only the task of accomplishing an agreement, but it is also a secondary issue of fostering trust in order to communicate sufficiently. A problem solving and integrative negotiation strategy is the most practical method for facilitating dialogue.

Strategic negotiation preparation is required in order to get what you need from others who have values and preferences in contrast to your own. Architecture and negotiation students know that the design of a plan must be robust, useful, and sustainable in order to achieve desired goals.

With the power of understanding techniques and frameworks, problem solving and integrative negotiation methods are more effective than coercion in motiving others to comply.

Throughout the Laws, we have focused on the importance of preparation at the physical, social, psychological, strategic and spiritual dimensions. Any design for a negotiation plan must include mindfulness and skills on all levels. An appropriate design balances the reality of complex forces on all these dimensions which make it difficult to define difficult problems and encourage cooperation.

Federico, an executive, recently engaged in a negotiation with a Russian co-worker, Uri, which was difficult. They were the co-leaders on a project and had to negotiate the basic elements of the project design together.

After several days of getting nowhere, Federico noticed that he had been instinctively using a coercive negotiation strategy with his co-worker. Federico became more mindful about his ability to focus on the commonalities rather than the differences they had on the issues. He had become obsessed with their differences about what to negotiate and also HOW to negotiate.

Federico’s cultural preference was to be more indirect in his communication, while Uri’s preference was very direct. Federico began to react unconsciously to the direct communication style since he believed that Uri’s direct style meant he did not want to cooperate.

Federico became more aware of the fact that his hardball approach with Uri had little salience. He knew that the nature of this team assignment meant he would need to balance the need to enhance the working relationship and communication with Uri in order to make progress on the project design.

As Federico spoke of his negotiation situation, he noted that he became more successful both with not only the project itself, but also the process of negotiation. He knows the mastery of his negotiation skills will be a continual work in progress, but he felt he gained more leverage with Uri when he had more clarity about the planning and design of his own strategy.

When Federico became more conscious of his problem solving skills, he was able to construct an integrative process. He was then able to address the needs and interests that both Uri and he had. When Federico switched from a positional and hard ball approach, he found that there was a better exchange of information and ideas. He was amazed at how many options they invented for the project as a result.

Federico is an example of the increasing ranks of problem solving designers in the contemporary market place. The current design of integrative vs. classic manipulation strategies is evolving out of the dynamics of basic needs and social realities.

It is a process of trial and error, improvisation, and craft. Just as architectural masterpieces are perceived as cultural and social works of art, so is the design of integrative negotiation as a cultural symbol of our historic period of time.

In your current personal or professional negotiations, observe how easy it is to construct an approach based on classic habits. Remember that what we ‘see’ is based on our cultural mental models and may not represent the ‘reality’. We often think that what we see is what really is. Can you see it now?

Law 44 reflections

1. Do you recognize that you have an existing mental model founded on classic theories of power?

2. Have you recognized that there is a model clash and you have difficulty gaining leverage or influence as a result?

3. Do you believe that a better model can exist even if you may not have identified it yet?

Extra credit

Read “Becoming an Integrative Thinker” by Roger Martin, Rotman Magazine, Fall 2007.

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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