Use power to change the game

Power is said to pervade all facets of negotiation. Indeed, the very idea of negotiation intuitively conjures images of power contests and tough bargaining.

Going into a negotiation with someone who holds more power than you do can be a daunting prospect.  Whether you are asking your boss for a new assignment or attempting to land a major business deal, your approach to the negotiation can dramatically affect your chances of success.

Your power and influence come from the unique properties you bring to the equation.  It is the level of your ability to influence people or situations. Let’s examine different types of power and how you can harness this knowledge to become a more powerful negotiator.

Types of power

Various types of power can influence the outcome of a negotiation. I emphasise the word ‘can’ because if you have power but don’t use it, your power is of no value. The following are a few types of power that can be significant in the negotiating process:

Positional power – Some measure of power is conferred based on one’s formal position in an organisation. Some positions, roles, and titles grant power simply due to the authority or control they exert over a wide range of important outcomes. This type of power, also referred to as role power or legitimate power, is often found in organisational hierarchies. People at higher levels have power over the people below.  Subordinates have a primary function in the use of legitimate power. When subordinates accept the power as legitimate, they comply.

People with a lot of legitimate power could use their authority to ‘instruct’ other parties to adhere to certain procedures. Depending on the authority level of the individual, the other negotiators could follow whatever is decided by completely relying on the abilities of the individual in authority.

Knowledge or expertise – Knowledge in itself is not powerful; it is the application of knowledge that confers power. It’s important to take the time prior to a negotiation to research facts and statistics, find out what the other party’s goals are, and discover what areas he or she might consider negotiable–and then use this knowledge!  What this means for us in practical terms is that we need to take the time to gather as much information about what we’ll be negotiating about and who we’ll be negotiating with before the negotiations start.

One of the most important points about this information gathering exercise that a lot of new negotiators don’t realise is that the best kind of information to get is information that the other side of the table doesn’t want you to have. Likewise, if you have information that the other side of the table doesn’t have then all of a sudden the power dynamics of the negotiation have shifted – you are in a much stronger position.

Psychological power – People differ in the degree to which they feel psychologically powerful, they can create a temporary sense of power. When your confidence is low, you can give it a boost by thinking about a time in your life when you had power. Being powerful and feeling powerful have essentially the same consequence for negotiations.

Trust – In order to be a successful negotiator, you are going to have to build a reputation that makes others want to negotiate with you. One of the most important parts of this reputation is going to be just how much the other side of the table trusts you.  Individuals who are seen as trustworthy have a great deal of power in negotiations. You are perceived as trustworthy if you have a reputation for doing what you say you are going to do.

Reward and punishment – Those who are able to bestow rewards or perceived rewards, such as raises or job benefits, hold power. Conversely, those who have the ability to create a negative outcome for the other party also have power. Reward power can be gained from one’s capacity to reward compliance. Reward power is used to support legitimate power. When someone is rewarded or might receive a potential reward such as recognition for a job well done, a good job assignment, a pay rise, or additional resources to complete a job, the employee may respond in kind by carrying through with orders, requests and directions.

Coercive or punishment power is the opposite of reward power. It is the ability of the power holder to remove something from a person or to punish them for not conforming to a request. Coercive power could take the form of a threatened strike action by a labour union; the threat of preventing promotion or transfer of a subordinate for poor performance; it could be a threat of litigation; it could be at threat of non-payment; it could be the threat to go public; and it could even be a threat of physical injury. All of these practices have one vital element in common – the element of fear. The fear that these threats will be used is called coercive power.

Behaviour style - You gain real power from knowledge of behaviour styles if you can read a situation and adapt your style to it. Being able to identify a counterpart’s preferred style and alter your own style accordingly can be incredibly helpful in developing productive relationships.

Power is of no value unless you take advantage of it. When negotiating, be willing to take a chance. Try out your ability to influence the other party and the outcome of the negotiation. You may find out you have more power than you think! Would you like to be a better negotiator? Sure, we all would. The trick is finding out just exactly how to move from where our negotiating skills currently are to where we’d like them to be.

Book your seat at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s upcoming Creative Negotiation Skills course scheduled for 20 – 21 June, 2017 in Johannesburg. It is highly practical, so you’ll get to simulate negotiation situations and practise tactics using role play in the main negotiation stages: preliminary, opening, exploring and closing.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s public course training schedule.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email




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