Powerful Thoughts

By on / Business Negotiations

Adapted from “Power Plays,” by professors Adam D. Galinsky (Northwestern University) and Joe C. Magee (New York University), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

For many people, thinking about the role of power in negotiation can be paralyzing. In fact, the same people who are anxious about negotiating in general tend to be anxious about exerting their power during negotiation. Why? Perhaps because most of us realize that power, even when not explicitly discussed, is often the precipitating and driving force of negotiation processes and outcomes. Obviously, power can generate competition and conflict. But when channeled effectively in negotiations, it can be a catalyst for win-win outcomes.

Here’s an extreme example from global politics of how power can insulate you in negotiation. Ratko Mladic, a Serbian military commander in the conflict with Bosnia-Herzegovina, was notorious for adopting a negotiation style characterized by angry eruptions and emotional diatribes. This strategy apparently worked only when Mladic, who was eventually charged with war crimes, dealt with his subordinates; more powerful negotiators, including those from other countries, were uncowed by his displays of anger. Why? Power offers protective armor against the treacherous behavior of your opponents; the powerful are not easily manipulated.

Researcher Gerben Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam found that only low-power negotiators were strongly influenced by their opponent’s expressions of anger; they made larger concessions than when no anger was expressed. High-power negotiators barely seemed to notice the other side’s emotions; they identified their own true bargaining interests and offered only the concessions necessary to reach a good deal.

How can you gain this advantage? Immediately before negotiating with someone you know to be emotional and demanding, reflect on a time when you negotiated with a strong best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. Recall your sense of confidence and control. Generating psychological power can immunize you from your opponent’s angry tactics.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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