Power in Negotiation: Why You Need It and How to Get It

Businesspeople shaking handspow·er 
/ˈpou(ə)r/
noun
the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events

Negotiation research is a real thing – and this evolving area of study is fascinating. Recent research has revealed not only some of the key ways that channeling power makes negotiators more effective, but also that attaining that power in the first place is within any negotiator’s reach.

After analyzing negotiation research from around the world (sounds like my dream job), the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School recently outlined four of the critical ways that power impacts negotiations:

  1. Power Prompts Action. Power, whatever its source, pushes negotiators to be more proactive throughout their negotiations – whether it’s making the first offer, deciding to negotiate a received offer rather than accept it as-is, or working through an impasse. (Not coincidentally, these qualities not only benefit the “powerful negotiator” but also his or her adversary, who can also enjoy the more creative win-win solutions often uncovered by such persistence.)
  1. Power Prompts Risk-Taking. Berkeley professor Cameron Anderson’s research has shown that psychological power pushes people to think more creatively about problems and resist the constraints of their adversary’s position. “Powerful” negotiators worry less about potential dangers and focus more on potential payoffs (the “act first, apologize later” mentality) – freeing them to take risks that often reap rewards in negotiation.
  1. Power Is Protection. No one enjoys being on the receiving end of a scream-fest, but negotiators who feel powerful are less influenced by their adversary’s displays of anger than those who feel powerless (and thus too quick to make concessions just to bring an end to an unpleasant interaction). University of Amsterdam researcher Gerben Van Kleef found that the other side’s anger barely registered for the more powerful negotiators, who maintained focus on their own interests and made concessions only to reach a deal, not to end an ugly situation.
  1. Power Prompts Perspective…If You Let It. In fact, research has shown that the more powerful a negotiator feels, the less perspective he or she has into the other side’s point of view – and of course, being able to empathize and understand your opponent’s perspective is critical to achieve a good result. The key is marrying power with perspective to enjoy the benefits of both. “Perspective taking” may not come easily to the “powerful” negotiators among us, so make a point to focus on it.

So, the benefits of power in negotiation are clear, but how do you get it? Negotiation research has revealed that power has everything to do with psychology. The Program on Negotiation identifies power as stemming from three sources:

  1. A Strong BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) – You could show up to the negotiation table naked (and afraid) and still achieve power by having a strong alternative to your desired scenario. A solid Plan B empowers you to walk away if the negotiation goes south. It’s all about preparation.
  1. Role/Position – The semantics of titles in today’s workplace is a subject for another day, but many negotiators derive power simply from their high rank or title. If you’ve got it, flaunt it if the situation warrants it.
  1. Psychology – The phrase “Fake it til you make it” comes to mind here. If you feel that you’re powerful, you will be more powerful during the negotiation, according to research by Stanford University’s Deborah Gruenfeld, along with Adam D. Galinsky and Joe C. Magee. If you need a boost, think back to an experience that made you feel good about yourself and channel that feeling into this negotiation.

If you focus on building your power from as many sources as possible, you can help steer any negotiation your way. At a minimum, before entering into any negotiation, make sure to focus on these three sources to help increase your power.

For further reading, check out the Program on Negotiation’s blog here and look back at my prior posts about BATNApreparationempathy, and psychology.

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