Why Positive Power is Crucial in Negotiation

Even with a master’s degree in negotiation, I still fall victim to well-worn, obvious negotiation tactics. Recently, I sold a car, and I was under time pressures. I already knew when I was picking up my new car, and I didn’t want to park one one of them on the street and one in the garage while I waited to sell it.

I had a self-imposed time constraint that probably cost me about 5 percent of the sale price because I wanted it sold fast.

Acting like a reluctant buyer when buying a car is a very good tactic that can bring prices down quickly because most sellers want their car gone fast.

You’re welcome for the tip… just don’t use it on me!

We all fall for obvious tactics. Why? Well, just because you know someone is “working” you, that doesn’t mean your circumstances change. If they use the fact that you’re in a rush against you, knowing they’re doing it doesn’t change your time constraints. However, power in negotiation is not fixed or static. It changes, and you can make it change in your favor.

You Just Have to Know How

But first, what are the main factors that affect power in negotiation? Dr. Bernie Mayer, an expert in conflict and negotiation, says that the primary source of power is related to alternatives:

“If they have to get an agreement, they have less power, if they can meet their needs pretty well even without an agreement, they have more power.”

Power isn’t in people. Power is in people’s alternatives and their confidence level in those alternatives.

Conversely, we lose power when we lose alternatives, and if you start out a negotiation without any alternatives, you’ll find yourself without any power right from the get-go

Pro-tip: Don’t do this! Get alternatives!

Now, what’s this about “positive power?”

Because most power in a negotiation is related to alternatives, it shouldn’t be surprising that positive power also ties directly into that concept. An entrepreneur who uses positive power positions herself as a unique resource, and by so doing, becomes much more attractive than any other alternative.

For instance, why do Fortune 50 CEO’s get paid so much to do their jobs? Or, why do influential people get compensated so well and get so many requests for appearances, statements, etc.? The answer is: They’ve positioned themselves as unique resources.

You can do the same thing in a negotiation. Make your offering so good that all other alternatives look unattractive. Dr. Mayer puts it this way:

“Often times, people think of alternatives in terms of how they can force people to do what they want, but even more important is how they can put themselves in a unique position to help the other party get what it wants.”

Timing is (Almost) Everything

Before we part ways and you skip off into the sunset of positive power, let’s talk about timing. From Dr. Mayer again, “A solution is like the queen in a game of chess—very powerful, but that power is lost if it is brought out onto the table at the wrong time—because then it is just one more essential piece that can be attacked.”

Think carefully about your next important negotiation, and consider when is the right time to explain how your unique offering really is the best solution. The right timing can make all the difference in whether you get an agreement or get rejected. Not too early, not too late. This is tricky and can be more art than science, but with practice you’ll understand better when to present your solution.

Unfortunately, you’re going to fall for common negotiation tactics again, and so will I. But we can both improve results by using positive power and make better deals in the future. I’ll promise to plan better the next time I sell a car, if you commit to using positive power. Deal?

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