University of North Florida What is power in the context of negotiations? One definition is “the ability to move toward your goals in view of your counterpart’s strength.” Another would be “the ability to bring about the outcomes they desire.” Cohen (1980: 51) talks about “the capacity to get things done- to exercise control over people, events, situations, and oneself.” One could think of the power being used to (1) overcome the opposition, (2) defend oneself or (3) work together. Power is a rather difficult concept to grasp. There are many different sources of power, as we will see below. Power is also largely a perceptual matter, rather than something that can be tangibly measured.
The term “power” tends to evoke negative connotations. This is unjustified. One can either use or misuse power. Only situational judgments are possible. Objections can be raised over both the means used and the ends one seeks. Much has been written about when too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few, abuses tend to follow. Most of us have heard the saying “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” These reservations are the foundation for instituting checks and balances in our government bodies and the organizational world. Power itself, however, is neither good nor bad. It is simply a means to an end.
Power is frequently categorized as reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, expert power (including controlling information), and referent power (including having charisma). One could quibble that it is difficult to divide reward and coercive power. For instance, is withholding a formerly given award a case of exercising reward power or coercive power? I doubt such debates have much to offer us.
One could think in terms of information sources of power, personal sources of power, position based power, relationship-based power, and contextual power. Informational power refers to the accumulation and presentation of data or personal expertise. Personal sources of power considers differences in motivations and morals with respect to the acquisition and usage of power. Position based power includes the legitimate power from a position and control over resources. Resource control refers being able to deliver money, supplies, human capital, time, equipment, critical services and interpersonal support. Power based on relationships deals with goal interdependence, referent power, and position in a network (centrality, criticality, flexibility, visibility, and membership in a coalition). Contextual sources of power include BATNAs, culture, constituencies, and external audiences.
Cohen (1980) goes into far greater depth. Whether this gives us a much better grasp of the matter, or if it is confusing and redundant, is a good question.
1. The power of competition. When a great number of people want something, or others hold something in high value, one can be said to have power. Most of us have heard the saying it is easier to get a job when you already hold a job. It is best to enter a negotiation with options (the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). This way, people are less likely to take you lightly.
2. The power of legitimacy. People often accept signs, documents, and other forms of the printed word easily and without asking any questions. You can also talk about legitimate power in terms of one’s family tree (being a blue blood or having famous relatives), where you live, your degrees, your job, and the like.
3. The power of risk taking. This refers to taking calculated chances, mixing risk and common sense. Can you accept losing or walking away? You may be able to share risks with others to expand your horizons (i.e. bring in other investors). Do not take risks for pride or impatience (e.g. to get it over with).
4. The power of commitment. We are all in this together. Get people to buy into the outcomes via participation. You share anxiety and risk, foster social support, and unify your team. Ideally, you will have one voice, and agree upon the appropriate concessions and offers.
5. The power of expertise. When others think you have the necessary specialized or technical knowledge, you have power. People love to relieve themselves of decisions. This reduces the anxiety associated with making a choice. Blame may also thereby be shifted to another if things go wrong. Establish your background and credentials early in the negotiations. You must be able to ask good questions and assess the accuracy of their responses. You can counterbalance their experts with your own experts. You might negate their expert power somewhat by asking them to put that in layman’s terms and/or asking them to repeat their key points.
6. The power of knowledge of “needs.” Two things are bargained for: stated issues (demands), and real needs, which are not always verbalized or are not fully verbalized. You can try to discover their needs via doing research, informal talks, and contacting their close friends.
7. The power of investment. You can suck people in by getting them to expend time, money and energy on a negotiation. Save the real objectionable issues, the emotional stinkers until the end. This makes it less likely they will simply walk away.
8. The power of rewarding and punishing. When you perceive someone can help or hurt you, they have power.
9. The power of identification. Make the other feel good, important, or at the very least comfortable. Some leaders make their triumphs the group’s triumphs.
10. The power of morality. This includes one’s upbringing in schools and churches. People who live particularly clean and upright lives are both admired and despised by others. Would you mistreat a person who takes great care to respect others? Would you lie to a person who does not lie? One normally is reluctant to take advantage of a person who is perceived as pure and/or defenseless. Appeals for mercy, however, may not be as well received in some cultures as they are in others. Simply asking if something is fair or if it is the right thing to do are common statements that fall into this category.
11. The power of precedent. You can’t argue with success. If this is how things have long been done, the other side will have great difficulty debating the point. Still, sometimes you have to reverse course when things are not going your way. One should note that there are patterns for stability and for change.
12. The power of persistence. Most people give up to easily. Keep at it, even if you are boring, you may well wear them down.
13. The power of persuasive capacity. Logic may convince them, but it does not always work. The other party has to understand what you are saying. Stories are often a powerful tool.
14. The power of attitude. What happens if you lose? Do not negotiate for yourself, because you will be too involved. If you must, pretend it is a game, and thereby create some distance.
When you think of powerful people, who comes to mind?
Machiavelli = He wrote a book entitled The Prince in hopes of impressing the prince and getting the job he coveted. You think of him making statements such as “the ends justify the means.” You need good laws and good arms. A leader should be both loved and feared. Love, unfortunately is quickly lost if it is to their benefit. People are quick to forget favors, so you need both. Never give benefits in response to force. When benefits are given, they should be given slowly, so people will appreciate you more. You should be ruthless, yet benevolent and religious. You should, however, avoid being hated. Do not focus on abstract logic. Think instead in terms of what happens and what works. Think in terms of human nature.
Adolf Hitler = He sought power within Germany, across Europe and later the world. He spoke about racial purity, conquest and obtaining greater living space for his people. He gained political power ironically as his funds and support were waning. Other politicians thought they could ally with him, gain power, and subsequently control him. They turned out to be mistakened, just as were people who tried to appease him via a string of concessions. Hitler utilized information control in the form of censorship and propaganda. Films were shot with him being shown from below to make him appear to be a more imposing leader. Cameras would be raised via elevators to show crowd shots. Scenes were recorded of Nazi leaders arriving via planes coming down out of the clouds. Torch lite ceremonies were shot at night, to heighten the impact. Coercive power was used to weaken resistence. In Czechoslovakia, enemy leaders were mailed home in urns. The Nazis believed you did not have to destroy entire organizations, the most important things was to cut off the head (kill the leaders). This would normally intimidate the remaining people. Hitler unified his group by blaming the Jews for Germany’s problems, both past and present. Creating a scapegoat, and identifying outside threats, are both well known ways of unifying a group. Hitler also employed mystic symbols, history, magic and warrior myths to enhance his position. For business enterprises, he offered prosperity through his rearmament policy. He offered an image of order and prosperity that was far more appealing than the unemployment, poverty, inflation and lingering feelings of defeat that prevailed before his rise to power. By taking land and resources from others, he could offer greater prosperity and glory for members of his group. While most of us cannot understand Hitler talking in German on the old films, he was a charismatic speaker that drew large crowds and got enthusiastic reactions.
Jesus Christ = He was successfully able to recruit energetic disciples who converted others to the cause. When people were converted, their attitudes and behaviors were often altered greatly. One source of Christ’s power was his genealogical roots (this is traced in Matthew). He also was able to recite scriptures that few people had access to at the time. He was a charismatic speaker, both in the temple and in the country. He performed miracles such as turning water to wine, and multiplying supplies of food. He healed people. He could cast out demons. He had the gift of prophesy. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He swayed many people via sermons, parables and stories. While some people debate the historic accuracy of certain documents, and all sorts of competing theories have been put forth regarding particular events, one cannot really dispute that many people have adhered to a particular set of beliefs and displayed different behavior patterns over a very lengthy period of time. Christ has had great influence long after his execution. This stands in stark contrast to many empires that were built by arms, whose influence faded long ago.