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Negotiation and Power

April 1, 2016

Yesterday I was listening to a highly respected trainer in negotiations. He set out the sequence of activities needed to deliver success. His start point was to develop a negotiation strategy and he suggested that this should be based on an analysis of relative power.

I understand that power has a major influence in a negotiation, but should it really provide the framework? Surely this approach perpetuates negotiations as being akin to ‘the art of war’ – essentially an adversarial model where each party is wrestling for individual advantage?

It seems to me that negotiation strategy should instead be founded on an understanding of need, both perceived and potential, and the relationship required for success. I appreciate that it might be argued that a good power analysis should lead to the same place, because you would explore how to counter power through value, or alternatively how relative needs influence power. But in my experience, the focus on power often leads to the more negative master-slave approach and frequently results in the wrong conversations.

So I prefer to focus instead on the potential of the deal or relationship and the ingredients needed to make it work. For example, to what extent does it require collaboration and harmonisation of resources? What is the best division of responsibilities and what interfaces do we need? Analysis on this basis sets a very different tone for planning and subsequent negotiation. It also assists in highlighting comparative risks for the parties and therefore early thinking about the various terms and techniques through which they may be mitigated.



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