Managing power in negotiation

Negotiation4Managing power
in negotiation

Power is in the head

You may think this is simply a cliché that
contains a grain of truth, but is of little practical
help in improving the outcomes of your
negotiations. Next we’ll be talking about the
power of positive thinking. And we can’t blame
you for your cynicism, because when the
average negotiation trainer or consultant says,
“Power is in the head”, what they really mean is
“I don’t understand power; it’s something vague,
subjective and mystical, so I can only talk about
it in vague, subjective and mystical terms.”

At Huthwaite we take a more objective view.
We begin our approach to managing power
in negotiation with the statement, power is in
the head, simply because we’ve proved it –
hundreds of times.

In training simulations we give a negotiation
case study to a team of buyers and a team
of sellers. We allow them adequate time to
prepare and plan and then, immediately before
the face-to-face negotiation, we ask each team
for an assessment of the power balance –
50/50, 60/40, 70/30 etc. When the negotiation
is concluded we again ask the teams, without
conferring, to assess the power balance. In
virtually every case we find:
• before the negotiation the power claimed by
the two teams totals to more than 100%; one
team, for example, will claim 50% and the
other 70% – clearly a logical impossibility
• after the negotiation at least one and usually
both teams’ perceptions of the power balance
has changed
• after the negotiation the power claimed by the
two teams still does not total to 100%.

From this simple, but revealing experiment we
can make several important deductions:
• power is in the head. It is a perception. There
is no absolute reality
• the way negotiators analyse, prepare and plan
for a negotiation can affect their perception of
the power balance
• perceptions of power can and do change
during the face-to-face negotiation.

So if we wish to manage the power balance
to our advantage, we have to manage what’s
going on in the other party’s head. The
questions we have to answer are:
• what are effective negotiators doing to
maximise their power in preparation for the
• what are successful negotiators doing to affect
the power balance at the negotiating table?

Managing power in negotiation

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