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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 46: Unleash Human Potential

By Karen S. Walch

Classic notions about power and self-interest compel negotiators to see themselves in constant and aggressive competition with others. Defensiveness and self-importance drive the classic negotiation strategy. The one with power prepares to impress and lead others with superior talents, strengths and confidence.  Such self-attention and achievement are critical to classic ethical egoism and Machiavellian manipulation for personal gain. This week’s law will address the design of an alternative set of assumptions about power and self-interest for negotiation.  The foundation of this new design principle derives from the field of human potential.

In contrast to classic pessimistic assumptions of human nature, the field of human potential assumes there is untapped positive human potential yet to be developed.  Utilizing research from this field, practicing negotiators learn to unleash their own potential power which tends to encourage them to assist others to do the same.  As a result, collective agreements can lead to a quality of life filled with resources, happiness, creativity, and fulfillment.

The education and design of human potential competency models are derived from considerable social/psychological research about psychological egoism and the culture of narcissism.  Historically, western psychological models have relied on rational egoism and the classic belief that it is sensible to act in one’s own self-interest.  However, psychological research concludes that such egocentrism creates an inability “to put one’s self in others’ shoes.”

As a result, negotiators have little consciousness of the limits to their own knowledge.  This can lead to naïve egocentrism which leads to self-deception, insensitivity, prejudice and limitations about one’s point of view and values … a recipe for disaster in socially complex negotiation situations!

Fundamental to the design of the integrative negotiation strategy (see Laws 34-38 and 44 and 45), is the principle of humility, not egotism.  Without humility, a negotiator will not recognize that one cannot claim more than one actually knows, and that sustainable results are not possible if a negotiator becomes pretentious or conceited about one’s own insights and beliefs.

Therefore, self-development is fundamental preparation in order develop required empathy and sense of responsibility.  Through skills development, negotiators discover that apathy towards others and larger social problems are not only destructive for the collective, but also for their own personal survival and satisfaction.

Successful negotiators today increasingly practice mindfulness and cultural, emotional, and social intelligence because we all tend to easily default to egoistic thinking.  Markus, a very experienced NGO alumnus, recently spoke of how it is not just young negotiators who tend to “forget” information that does not support their own personal perspective.

Because of his own experience and mistakes, today he encourages young negotiators to devote time researching their counterpart’s cultural perspective since this was something he often ‘forgot’ to do. He likes to encourage others not to fall into the same traps that he did earlier in his negotiation career. Markus states that the most important step is not to become myopic and start to think that an advanced education can lead to superior intelligence!

Markus has a saying, “It is not true that what you believe is true because you believe it to be true” because he believes negotiators tend to oversimplify and ignore some of the most important human complexities of a negotiation. As an “elder,” Markus encourages self-development as a negotiation competency since it helps negotiators not be blind to the facts or evidence which contradicts personal favored beliefs or values.

He believes that the improvement of self-awareness ironically is not narcissistic when self-knowledge and identity develop strengths to negotiate with others in a way that enhances the quality of life for all parties to a negotiation.  It is difficult, but not impossible to do.

Throughout the Laws series, we have highlighted how critical negotiation skills are for the accomplishment of any personal or professional goal or to fulfill of any aspiration. Negotiation competencies include the ability to manage emotions, to develop mature interpersonal relationships, and to achieve purpose and integrity as a negotiator.

Ironically, personal self-development also includes developing others.  Coaching team members in one’s own negotiation team and those from outside your own organization is an important aspect of negotiation leadership.  Additional training, assessment and coaching about negotiation skills are continually required not only of one’s self, but also for those who you may mentor or coach.  A structured and supported learning process can help you reflect on your own learning, performance and achievement.

Negotiators who increase their power today recognize that their work and personal achievement requires integrity and perseverance. Negotiators who recognize that they need to be true to their own thinking, standards, and values need to be conscious of the inconsistencies in their own thinking and action.  In spite of difficulties, obstacles and frustrations of limited information, powerful negotiators maintain a firm adherence to principles of problem solving and sustainable outcomes.

It is difficult, but not impossible to develop a consciousness of how to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or vested interests, or of one’s own community or nation.

Law 46 reflections

1. Can you imaginatively put yourself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them?  Can you reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than your own?

2. Are you aware of your own egocentric tendency to identify truth with your immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief?

3. Can you remember occasions when you were wrong in the past despite an intense conviction that you were right?

Extra credit

Read The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, 2009, Free Press

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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