Negotiation 4: Relational influence and power
Relational influence and power
This article is about power within relationships and how to understand and use the knowledge to your advantage.
The quality of a negotiation depends upon two things; the quality of the basic relationship between the parties involved and the quality of the communication that takes place. A good relationship with good communication between parties should enable successful negotiation. A poor relationship with poor communication is unlikely to amount to much.
The nature of a relationship in turn has an impact upon the quality of communication within it. If we do not trust someone, we are in danger of either disregarding what they say or looking for hidden meanings that may or may not actually exist. The nature of a relationship impacts heavily upon negotiation and is a major influencing factor on the likelihood of satisfactory outcomes. Consequently we are going to look at relationships from another angle - that of power - and see how this new viewpoint is likely to have an effect on negotiating tactics.
When we become aware of something or someone for the first time, we enter into a relationship with that thing or person. Relationships can be simple - your relationship with someone who serves you in a shop, or complex - your relationship with your mother. As relationships become more complex, they can be identified by a growing degree of dependence - in other words, how much we need whoever or whatever it is.
‘Dependence’ is different from ‘liking’: you might like the person you chat with occasionally on the bus or in the supermarket, but you do not need them; however, you might thoroughly dislike your boss and yet depend upon that person for guidance and support and, ultimately, for your livelihood. Similarly, you might not like the person with whom you are conducting negotiations one little bit, and yet be dependent on them for information, co-operation and agreement.
Dependence can be hard to admit because it defines vulnerability. It sketches out the invisible arena within which we must operate because crossing the line can be risky - your boss might discipline or sack you, your fellow negotiator might withdraw from the discussion. Of course we all have others who are dependent upon us, but is usually our own dependence - our own vulnerability - that we find difficult to confront and to accept.
Like it or not, however, dependence, vulnerability, and consequently power are influencing factors in all relationships. You might feel that you control the power balance, that you are subject to it or that it is equal. Nevertheless, it exists and it is a major influencing factor.
Types of power
French and Raven, two sociologists, identified eight types of power in research that they carried out in the 1950s. (J.R.P. French and B. H. Raven, ‘The Bases of Social Power’ in ‘Studies for Social Power’, D. Cartwright (ED.), Institute for Social Power, 1959.)
This type of power comes from one person’s position in relation to another. For instance, a manager may have power because of the position that he or she occupies, whereas a supervisor may have less power because of the way in which people perceive their relative positions. Bear in mind that the people who are subject to it award this type of power to the person in question. Positional power is characterised by a need for the relationship to continue.
As individuals, the more information that we have, the more we feel able to control what is going on about us. This form of control involves one person having more information than another and using it to control the other person’s uncertainty. People can become dependent upon others because of their need to control their own uncertainty.
Control of rewards
This is about having the power to reward for desired performance or behaviour. This type of power creates dependency upon the person giving the reward.
This is about having the power to punish for failure to behave in a desired fashion. This type of power is also likely to create dependency. People can depend on not being punished as well as depend on being rewarded.
Alliances and networks
This is an extended form of information power together with positional power.
Access to and control of agendas
If a person or an organisation can control the agenda in a negotiating situation, they can effectively set the ground rules. This means that they can legislate for the introduction of items that are favourable to themselves and for items that are unfavourable to be blocked. If the agenda is controlled, one of the parties to a relationship can be dependent upon the other to explain the rules for communication and subsequently negotiation.
Control of meaning and symbols
This type of power is one whereby one party will dominate the other by means of their use of language or the setting in which the relationship takes place. The legal system is a system that uses control of meaning to a great extent with its own language and many arcane symbols to support its power. Bank managers and solicitors use this type of power to some extent also. Consider the setting of your bank manager’s office and the content of your discussions.
This type of power may also be called ‘referent’ power. It is the type of power that springs from wanting to be like someone, because you feel that they have some desirable quality or qualities.
All negotiation is about power. Because there are always power imbalances in a relationship, negotiation goes on all the time. No matter what your overall approach to negotiation, you may need to consider the nature of power. Remember that the power in the relationship will influence the negotiation process and that negotiation is not limited to a formal ‘across the table’ session.
It is, of course, very rare that you will find that there is only one type of power in a relationship. In the case of a bank manager for example, he or she is likely to have six or seven of the types of power listed above. Once you’ve identified the types of power that are involved in the relationship, you can cast your strategy in a way that will help you work successfully in that relationship.
Let’s carry the bank manager analogy a bit further. They have positional power and information power, at least about the bank’s lending policies and possibly about similar organisations to yours. They will have reward power and conceivably coercive power, although this is likely to be illusory. They will have access to alliances and networks, and control of agendas through demands for a business plan. They will certainly have control of meaning and symbols in the form of their office setting and the way in which they dress.
Much of this power is dependency inducing. You will be dependent upon a bank manager for his knowledge of the bank’s lending policies, his ability to reward or to coerce if you have already been rewarded. Where he controls the agenda, you will be dependent upon him to explain the rules.
Some people assert that negotiation is about developing strategies that will decrease or increase the dependency of one of the parties in a negotiation. The bank manager will use strategies that will attempt to increase the customer’s dependency, whether or not he or she is a borrower. The customer should use strategies that reduce his or her dependence on the bank. These can correspond to the power strategies that the bank manager may wittingly or unwittingly use.
- The first type of strategy is knowing the area in which you are going to negotiate. If you are asking for money, the more you know both about the current state of the lending market and the particular scheme for which you are seeking money, the less dependent you will be upon the bank manager.
- The second is to maintain flexibility in your commitment to one bank. Banks will, within certain limits, protect themselves by exchanging information about classes of customer. This does not mean that you should not approach as many sources of finance as possible. If a bank manager is aware that you are not dependent on him, your negotiating position will be much stronger.
- The third is to develop your own networks and alliances. When a bank manager knows that you know other people in the area in which you propose to work, your potential dependency upon him as the only source of finance or information is reduced.
- The fourth is to manipulate rewards so that the manager will feel good about helping you. You may have rewards in your power that you do not use or realise that you have. People can feel rewarded when they are involved in an obviously successful project for which they can expect to receive praise. The bank manager is not immune to rewards.
- The fifth is to yourself manipulate meaning and symbol. Your first meeting with a bank manager is likely to be on his territory. Respond by inviting him to a second meeting on yours. Set a stage for his visit.
- The sixth is to use your own personal power. If you appear confident and relaxed, whilst committed to your project, you may be able to induce a manager to help you because of this.
Power may be real or illusory. Try to ascertain the extent of actual power held by the other party. The fact is that if you accept illusory power as real, then it is real for you.
Try not to be intimidated by the setting in which you find yourself. Much power may be created simply by setting the stage and whilst you should be prepared to use this tactic to your own advantage, you should beware of having it used against you by others.
Even if you think you hold the whip hand, aim for collaborative rather than competitive negotiation. ‘Win/win’ is the best outcome for all concerned.
- Aim for collaborative rather than competitive negotiations.
- Be aware of the power balance in the relationship and use it to your advantage.
- Having understood the relationship, work to develop it.
- Work to improve your own skills as a communicator.
- Set clear objectives and goals at the outset.