The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding

Laws of Power 47: Design for Both Rights and Interests

By Karen S. Walch

Classic negotiation strategies pursue the protection and security of self-interests through hardball methods.  Traditional Track 1 diplomacy, for example, pursues negotiations at the official governmental level to protect interests and rights through the power of coercion and balance of power.  Nonmilitary classic negotiation strategies may not rely on the same level of technical and military capabilities for absolute power and safe keeping, but they do rely on “hard” power to achieve security goals. This week’s law will address the limits of pursuing security through the use of “hard” power approaches alone.

Like trends in security policy, in general, “soft” power capabilities are gaining legitimacy and efficacy as contemporary negotiation best practices, in particular.  Negotiators who know the sources and benefits of “soft” power have the ability to protect their rights and interests through less coercion, but with much more significant impact.

Throughout the Laws series, we have addressed how disciplined problem solving skills and social and emotional capabilities can increase power and impact for negotiators. These capabilities and values of collaboration are critical elements of ‘soft’ power.  Through the power of understanding tactics and leverage (Laws 21 – 33), for example, negotiators are able to “attract” others to problem solve, create value, and increase security for themselves and others.  The idea of attraction as a form of power dates back to ancient philosophers, such as Laozi in 7th century B.C. China.

The primary currencies of soft power are a negotiator’s mindset, values, cultural adaptation, and coordination skills which attract others to “want what you want”.  Any meaningful definition of power must highlight the way in which these currencies can be converted into impact and outcomes.  For negotiators, soft power is defined both as the behavior (affecting others to obtain preferred outcomes) and as a measurable result (quantifiable resources and enhanced state of well-being and security).  High levels of soft power increase the ability to attract; attraction leads to compliance and cooperation; which leads to favorable, secure outcomes.

Track 2 level of diplomacy in international affairs is an example of how private citizens, business professionals, and unofficial educators and community leaders use soft power to increase security.  Track 2 efforts strive to reduce conflict, within a country or between countries, by lowering the anger, tension, or fear that exists, through improved communication and understanding.  This human security approach asserts that the traditional concept of security is no longer appropriate or effective in a highly modern interconnected, interdependent, and dangerous world.

Currently, we often read about the official Track 1 Israeli and Palestinian negotiations to address traditional Middle East security threats.  Not as visible are the Track 2 diplomatic efforts in this region to address the threats of poverty, environmental degradation, and citizen participation as the underlying causes of violence and insecurity.  One of the leaders of Track 2 diplomacy is Herbert Kelman, Emeritus at Harvard University, who is known for his work in the Middle East, including a 1989 off the record meeting between the PLO and Israeli politicians.

He has been instrumental in bringing the opposing sides closer on important human security issues in the region.  Much of his work and others at the Track 2 level have had significant impact on the current Track 1 level of official negotiations.  Much of the work done at the Track 2 level of human security and needs have been fundamental to the mutual recognition between the PLO and the state of Israel, for example.  The growing numbers of unofficial citizen interactions over the last several decades have helped to persuade Israeli and Palestinian leaders of the necessity to negotiate a compromise.

There have been extensive Track 2 diplomatic efforts and ‘public peace process’ involving Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, teachers, students, victims of war, and other common citizens.  Many of Professors Kelman’s problems solving workshops over the years have facilitated participant communication and understanding in the historical context of anger and fear.

Most workshop skills building focuses on identity issues and, despite the experience of violence, how they can assess and manage their raw emotions.  Many participants have been able to inspire, influence, and support others in the region as they cultivate sympathy and empathy for their enemies, and maintain positive relationships.

Through intense interaction between Track 2 and Track 1 levels of diplomacy, the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has emerged.  Public opinion polls, for example, now consistently show that majorities on both sides support a two-state solution.  For Palestinians, obtaining their own state means an end to more than four decades of occupation, acknowledgement of their past suffering, the fulfillment of their national aspirations and an opportunity to shape their own destiny.

For Israelis, the two- state solution ends the demographic challenge to Israel’s character as a Jewish majority state, removes the stigma of being an occupying power, enables a potential peace with the Arab world, and eliminates a critical barrier to full international acceptance.

Both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power endeavors encourage the parties to share the land to which both are deeply attached and have historic roots.  A negotiation plan designed to protect the political rights of national self-determination, aspirations and identity are fundamental to peaceful coexistence. In addition, ‘soft’ power approaches must be designed to understand and secure the basic human needs, identity, and potential of economic growth and security.  Like the Middle East, ‘soft’ power is critical to the security of all negotiators who live in an uncertain world.

Law 47 exercises

1. What Track 2 diplomacy interactions are you involved in? How does an open mind and strategically optimistic best case scenario impact your own security?

2. What are your assumptions about an actual or potential conflict that can be resolved by your power of understanding and soft power skills?

3. How can you assisting others to fulfill their own dreams and destiny?  How can you take responsibility for empowering and transforming the security of your community?

4. Where can you build relationships of trust and caring by transforming your beliefs, assumptions and values about power?

Extra credit

Read Israel and Palestine: Two States for Two Peoples, If not Now, When? by Alan Berger, Harvey Cox, Herbert Kelman, et al, 2010,

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.