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“Power With”​ meets “Power Over”

By Dr Karen Walch, Clair-Buoyant™ Leadership, LLC and QuantumNegotiation™

I have always had a deep curiosity about power in social interactions. My studies through PhD research and teaching experiences around the world had left me dissatisfied with the current state of knowledge and wisdom on negotiation. Much of the study and practice is about having political, legal, social “power over” others in order to get compliant behavior. Unconscious, ineffective “power over” behaviors have become habits for negotiators which often lead to success and wins measured by how much one can win over a counterpart – even at the expense of a relationship.

Harvard’s Principled Negotiation and mutual gains practices from the Program on Negotiation were emerging while I was in graduate school which led me to explore more of win-win outcomes and practices. This inspired me to explore the field of negotiation as an academic study. Win-win, mutual gains was a real paradigm shift at the time. Mutual gains practices moved our thinking beyond WHAT we wanted as negotiators and HOW to problem solve and not focus on coercing, or manipulating others to cooperate with us in negotiation.

Through Principled Negotiation we learned how to explore our counterpart’s interests and WHY they would be motivated to cooperate with us.   Principled Negotiation also showed us how to use the BATNA – the best alternative to a negotiated agreement in the event of no agreement. WHAT IF we cannot reach an agreement, we will know our alternatives.

Over the last 30 years, I have continued to study and experience the impact of these teachings in my post-doctoral research and in the decades of teaching. Not only do coercive, hard ball tactics leave negotiators feeling dissatisfied, mutual gains strategies were missing the mark as well.  “Power with” others created more resources, perceptions of shared interests and ways to problem solve together. However, we need to prepare for the important human elements of emotional, social and spiritual dimensions. It turns out that the most essential elements in our social relationships are invisible to the eye.

Quantum Negotiation: The Art of Getting What you Need, became a collection of many examples of negotiators who practiced “power with” vs. “power over” in their negotiations and found increased vitality and satisfaction as negotiators. Uri and Robert, for example, were working as co-project leaders of a global team. They were in a very common situation most negotiators I meet today; rapid change, uncertainty, and continual movement of people collaborating across the globe in diverse national or organizational cultures.

Uri and Robert were not aware of it, but on many days their nervous systems and anxiety became unbearable. They needed to get things done quickly, but the more they pushed, the more they became strained, stressed, and unable to be creative or empathetic to each others’ concerns. At one point, Uri and Robert reached an impasse. Even though they were both very clear about WHAT they wanted and WHY it was important to the overall project that they cooperate, they could not agree on anything.

They wanted the same things, but the way they communicated with each other led to increased frustration and lack of interest in working with each other. Upon their Quantum Negotiation preparation, Uri realized that as he discovered more of WHOhe was and what he valued, he had a very strong belief in communicating in an instructive and direct manner. However, Robert’s preference was a more indirect communication style with lots of exploratory questions, less about giving instructions. Once they discovered that much of the impasse was created by their gaps in communication style, they were able to transform their discussions into better understanding and appreciation for problem solving. This led to a much more engaged project of creativity and inclusion of their diverse ways of thinking.

As the sciences have emerged in social and emotional intelligence, mind/body/spirit connections, and brain science and anthropology, I can now see the power of integrating the wisdom in these fields with understanding better WHO we are as negotiators.  We need to know WHO we are and WHO our counterpart is. Coercive, disrespectful, and dehumanizing behaviors do not motivate or engage others to cooperate in helping us get what we need. The practice of “power with” others creates an energy of cooperation, trust, and satisfaction in working and personal relationships.

At The Experience Accelerator, we are exploring how behavior and negotiation preparation can be enhanced through coaching and practice. Here are some insights from our recent webinar.

As part of our ongoing research, we are conducting a survey to assess your latest thinking about negotiation. Explore The Experience Accelerator and learn more about your ability to increase your vitality and ability to get what you need in negotiation.

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