Given the pitfalls of having a position of relative power, what is a powerful negotiator to do? Below are conflict resolution steps for maintaining power and status at the bargaining table. By following these steps, you can keep your edge while encouraging cooperative, rather than competitive, behavior in conflict management.
Conflict Resolution Steps for Dealing with Power and Status at the Bargaining Table
Conflict Resolution Step 1. Get Off Your Power Pedestal
You may think that you’re on top, but power is in the eye of the beholder, especially in negotiation scenarios.
Accepting this reality often necessitates broadening your notion of what constitutes power in negotiation.
Resources are often the most obvious source of power, but maintaining good relationships, being viewed as an expert, and constructing mutually beneficial agreements also add to one’s power base.
At the heart of these skills is the ability to influence the interests of others at the table, whether positively or negatively.
Your counterparts may win at the influence game if they recognize that power is multifaceted – and you don’t.
Conflict Resolution Step 2. Prepare More, Not Less
Stories of less powerful Davids outsmarting formidable Goliaths show up in the news every day.
To avoid becoming the next Goliath, you need to overcome the tendency to view an upcoming negotiation as a no-brainer.
Instead, strive to identify and understand the weaker party’s vantage point by undertaking the same thorough negotiation preparation and analysis that you would if you were in his position.
This advice is equally important during the negotiation itself: Never assume that you’ve got it made.
Conflict Resolution Step 3. Let the Data Speak for Itself
As the more powerful party in negotiation, the worst thing that you can do is to try to force an outcome.
Threats such as “What choice do you have?” and rationalizations such as “This is the best option for everyone” will only incite coalitions against you and prompt revenge.
As an alternative, let the data speak for itself. Offer an objective rationale for a particular solution, one that your weaker counterparts will have a much easier time accepting.
Conflict Resolution Step 4. Find a “Neutral”
No matter how fair you try to be, your power can work against you in negotiation, inspiring suspicion and resentment.
Rather than trying to convince others of something they may never believe, it might be easier to find someone else to deliver the message.
Try to identify a neutral party within or outside the negotiation whose interests are aligned with yours and then provide that party with opportunities to voice a rationale for a proposed solution. Parties who are perceived by all sides as legitimate and fair will be the most successful messengers and can greatly increase the odds that your argument will be received and accepted.
What is your approach to conflict resolution? Share your tried and true methods in the comments.
Originally published March 2014.
Adapted from “You Are Too Powerful for Your Own Good?” by Ann E. Tenbrunsel for the September 2005 issue of Negotiation.