By Ian Newall, Open Course Manager, Huthwaite International

Power is elusive; never more so than in negotiations.

When two parties are negotiating we can often sense the shift of power but it is only with careful analysis that we begin to tease out the factors that have caused the shift. Perhaps one side has begun to ask some clever questions, leaving the other side on the back foot. Or one negotiator is clearly more confident. Sometimes one side is awed by the size or reputation of the other.

To make it more difficult, it is almost always counterproductive to use more power than is necessary. Throwing your weight around might cause the other side to walk out or to undermine any agreement that you reach.

The management of power in a negotiation is a subtle process. Herb Cohen, author and commentator on negotiation said, "Power is a matter of perception. If you think you've got it then you've got it. If you think you don't have it, even if you've got it, then you haven't got it."

This is a good starting point. If you think you have power then you have power.

So, how do you convince yourself that you have power?

Firstly, consider your alternatives. What will you do if you can't do a deal with the other side? Can you sell your product or service to someone else? Can you find another supplier of an equivalent solution? Do you have any other options? Can you improve your options? Having good alternatives means that you have less to lose by not reaching agreement so you are more powerful.

Secondly, have you done your homework? Do you have all the information that you need, including information about the other side? Then, have you worked out how you will use this information in your negotiation?

Thirdly, how are your negotiation skills? Are you happy that you have honed your skills and that you will be able to use them to best effect when you sit down with the other side?

But if power can't be measured objectively and is very much a matter of perception you will only be as powerful as the other side thinks you are. How do you let them know that you are powerful?

If you have covered all of the above you should be feeling more confident. If you are more confident the other side will pick this up. You don't have to do anything - they will pick it up without thinking about it.

If you've done your preparation thoroughly, you should be aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are. This means that you should be able to ask questions that expose their weaknesses and minimise their strengths. This should be part of the homework that you do before you sit down with them.

Finally, seize the initiative at the outset, something I will deal with in my next article: Improve Your Negotiation Power - Part Two

If you would like to develop your negotiation skills, think about attending a Huthwaite Negotiation Skills course.

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