Others May Be More Powerful Than You Think They Are

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Adapted from “You Are Too Powerful for Your Own Good?” by Ann E. Tenbrunsel for the September 2005 issue of Negotiation.

Imagine that you’re a national account sales manager and are preparing to negotiate your annual raise.

You have met all your sales objectives and feel that you are not only a valuable employee but also the top producer in the department.

You feel quite confident that you will receive the highest possible salary increase. But during an informal discussion with some of your peers, you realize that they, while aware of your achievements, believe that they have contributed more to the team than you think they have.

Who is right, you or your coworkers?

In research investigating the impact of power in negotiations, professor David Messick of Northwestern University and Ann E. Tenbrunsel have found that high-power plays tend to discount the power of less powerful players.

Prior to a simulated three-party negotiation, we asked individuals to assess the power of all three parties.

While all three negotiators agreed on the relative power ranking – who was number 1, 2, and 3 – they disagreed about the perceived degree of relative power that the number 2 player possessed.

Specifically, number 1, the most powerful party, believed that number 2 had significantly less power than number 2 and number 3 believed that number 2 had. (The two less powerful parties had similar perceptions of number 2’s power.)

Such self-confident perceptions can cause problems for powerful negotiators, who may offer fewer concessions and treat others with less respect and recognition than less powerful negotiators feel they rightfully deserve.

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