What comes to mind when you think of the word “power?” Is it dominance, control, force, authority?

Or, do words like these – service, commitment, influence, impact – come to mind?

Are you aware of your power? When does it appear and how does it show up?

I ask because power impacts everything.

Therefore, how you define it and the degree to which you believe you have it and exercise it matters – a lot!

This is why we can’t explore the topic of negotiating without diving into the role of power in the choices you make and actions you take.

What’s Your Power?

Since it doesn’t really suit our purposes for this post, I’m going to resist the temptation to go down the rabbit hole of using this space to talk about the various types of power you or your counterpart may exhibit. But according to social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven, there are six. If you’re curious, you can check out the study conducted and the research paper they published in 1959 – “The Bases of Social Power.”

That said, I do think it is important to be more aware of when you are harnessing your power…and when you are abdicating it. (Hence the suggestion to pay attention to all the times you negotiate – not just when it pertains to the “big” events and decisions in your life.)

So, let’s take a decidedly non-academic and non-scientific approach to exploring your power…

Just like last time, I’m going to ask you to reflect on one of your more recent instances of negotiating: Can you recall how you felt; did you feel strong, prepared and confident? Or, did you feel insecure or disadvantaged either due to a lack of knowledge and/or control or due to your “status” as it relates to the other person/s?

Whether you felt powerful or disempowered, can you explain what made you feel the way you did?

How about this…

If you segment your life into these five (5) areas: career, finances, fitness, expertise/intellect, and relationships (family, professional, social), do you notice that you feel powerful in some areas and not others? What patterns do you recognize in the areas where you feel powerful; how about in the areas where you don’t?

In what way does what you notice match with how you’re defining power, and the degree to which you feel you have it and exercise it?

I ask all these questions because your sense of power greatly influences how well you negotiate.

So, the more attuned you are to (a) what makes you feel powerful, and (b) how to harness it when you need to, the better negotiator (and leader) you will be.

A State of…

Now that you’ve taken a moment to write down what makes you feel powerful, what can you do to amplify it?

Do you need to:

  • Gather more intelligence in terms of facts, statistics and knowledge about what’s being negotiated or the other people involved;
  • Improve your ability to (quickly?) “read” a situation/room;
  • Make sure you’re fully aware of your alternative option/s;
  • Get better at recalling prior “wins” so you can bring that energy into every situation;
  • Negotiate where and what time of day the key conversations occur;
  • Remember you have the right to ask for more time and/or information?

When it comes to negotiating, especially with regards to the “big” moments and events, try to avoid making the mistake of not seeing (or being prepared for) the many levels of negotiating in which you are engaged. Because from the initial conversation to the moment you’re finalizing your agreement – whether verbally or in writing – to the moment you’re fulfilling the terms of your agreement, you are engaged in the art and science of negotiating. And tapping into your power at every level. (Some might even argue that it starts before the initial contact is made and responded to.)

Here’s the thing: Power is as much a state of mind as it is a matter of preparation – in all its forms (mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically).

A few things to remember

When it comes to power and negotiating, it helps to keep the following in mind:

  • Rarely does one side (aka: party) have all the power;
  • Power may be real or perceived;
  • Sometimes you only discover your power as you are engaging in the process;
  • Power is fluid and can change as the dynamics in a relationship changes;
  • Power doesn’t have to be about your ego (or the other party’s ego – though you can’t control the latter);
  • Don’t punish yourself when you realize you’ve abdicated your power – simply notice when and why it happened;
  • Power doesn’t have to be or go unchecked.

Why the reminder? It goes back to your definition of power and understanding of who has (doesn’t have) it. It goes back to the notion that power impacts everything.

Think of Power as…

Of course I’m not oblivious to people who misuse their power and the ways they become intoxicated by and use it for evil. But since part of power is choosing, I choose to view and practice embracing my own power through the lens of service, commitment, influence, and impact.

In part, it is how I have come, more recently, to view the practice of negotiating not just through the lens of good (and fair) deal-making, but also as a tool for good leadership (of self and others). And it is why I believe it is so important to never lose sight of the power you have and bring to every situation.

However, there are at least six things this trifecta of negotiation, leadership and power require:

  • Clarity (about what’s really being negotiated, knowing what you want and understanding what does the other party want)
  • Insight (aka wisdom – acquired vis a vis past experiences and questions)
  • Self-understanding (how’s your self-esteem holding up)
  • Impact (what effect do you want to have on the outcome and the people involved)
  • Creativity (do you need to think, differently)
  • Confidence (do you feel strong and prepared)

The role of power in negotiation is irrefutable.

What is also undeniable is this: Power is fluid. On some days and in some situations you will fully feel your sense of power; on other days, not so much. But in order to harness it, you need to not only be attuned with how you are defining power and what it feels/looks like, but also be keenly aware of what sort of power a situation requires.

Hence the following suggestion: Take some time and run through the above six-point punch list.

Do it as a “post audit” for a recent negotiation (regardless of the outcome) and use it as a “checklist” for a negotiation for which you are preparing. And since you’re likely to immediately think of your “big” negotiations, be sure to use the insight you gain from this exercise to increase your spidey-senses so that you’ll also notice these elements during your “small” negotiations, too.

This matters because when you show up in your sense of power (driven more by internal factors than external ones), it not only helps you to be a better negotiator, it also helps you be a better leader.

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