Exploring the use of power in negotiation

31Aug 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Commentary
Exploring the use of power in negotiation

COERCIVE power is as corrupt as it is destructive and leaves innocent victims in its wake. Negotiation is an art that one can decide not to understand at one's own peril because all our everyday interactions are permeated by it; be it at the personal, familial, communal or national levels.

According to Bates (1993:158) negotiation is "a process through which an attempt is made by two parties with differing views to reach a mutually acceptable agreement", and is influenced by a plethora of factors, chief among them being power, culture, setting and the media.

It is a given gentle reader that as human beings we will always share divergent views, which is not a folly but our foible in most cases is our failure to realise that at some point we need to negotiate so that a compromise is reached.

One of the most significant factors that can influence negotiation is power, which in some cases may be abused. According to Gibsons et al (1991:329) power is "simply the ability to get things done the way you want them done", and as posited by Stoner and Freeman (1978) power is "the ability to change or influence the behaviour and attitudes of others".

It is never linked to price but always to value and should not be confused with authority which is regarded as "the formal power that a person has because of the position that he or she holds in an organisation", (Gibsons et al, 1989:330).

French and Raven (1959) posited five interpersonal bases of power which are legitimate power, reward, expert, coercive and referent. All these power bases influence negotiation in different dimensions.

Legitimate power, which is similar to Weber's (1946) concept of authority, is derived from the ability to influence because of position. Legitimate power is acquired through a number of ways; by birth, election or awarded in an institution.

It can also be obtained through the ability to control rewards, or usurped. One who controls the flow of negotiation using legitimate power can opt to use it as a tactic in integration or stroking.

However, it is interesting to note that legitimate power has its on shortfalls. Firstly, it can only have influence if recognisedby the other part because it occurs mostly in social and political structures.

Thus, it can be countered by denying the power holder an opportunity to talk. This is made possible through reciprocal offers while insisting that the other party continues to make concessions.

Secondly, it can be pared by denying outright that any of the parties has legitimate power of significance, (Spoelstra and Piennar (1996).

Reward power, which is the ability to reward compliance, is used to compliment with legitimate power. For instance, one with legitimate power can promise subordinates rewards to motivate and make them obey orders, requests and directions.

Rewards are not only monetary but they can also be intangible, for example, verbal approval, encouragement and praise are good substitutes for tangible rewards. Extreme politeness on the part of the power holder complements praise for past behaviour as a way of manipulating future behaviour.

Reward power is optional in circumstances where the power holder expects resistance from the target and where monetary rewards are used to avert future resistance instead of combating the present resistance and where persuasion efforts would have failed (Lewicki and Litterer, 1985).

Thus this power base can be used as a modifier of behaviour because the power holder controls resources which can only be allocated to those in compliance to his or her ideas.

However, reward power is dysfunctional in that it is temporary. The instance the reward expires or loses value or the power holder loses his or her position, the power inevitably disappears.

A person who possesses expertise that is highly sought has expert power. Even though one may be ranked lowly in institutional echelons, if he/she has information he/she has expert power.

As postulated by Spoelstra and Piennar in their book "Negotiation Theories: Strategies and Skills" (1996: 121), "a secretary who has relatively low level organisationalposition may have high expert power because he/she knows the details of operating the business -- where everything is or how to handle difficult situations."