The study of power and its effect is important in the understanding of negotiation and relationships (or common ground) flowing from any negotiation. Every interaction and every social relationship, in side and outside organizations, involves an exercise of power.
French and Raven suggested five interpersonal bases of power that are important to negotiators.
- Legitimate power
- Reward power
- Coercive power
- Expert power
- Referent power
We will examine only Expert Power and Referent Power in this article, but should you wish to learn more about Legitimate Power read the article entitled “The Use of Power in Negotiations” on http://www.ezine.com. To learn about Coercive Power and Reward Power read the article entitled “Release your Power in Negotiations” on ezine.com
A person who possesses expertise that is highly valued has expert power. Experts have power even when their rank is low. An individual may possess expertise on technical, administrative, or personal matters. The more difficult it is to replace the expert; the greater is the degree of expert power that he or she possesses. Expert power is sometimes referred to as information power and is often a personal characteristic. For example:
A secretary who has a relatively low-level organisational position may have high expert power because he or she knows the details of operating the business – where everything is or how to handle difficult situations.
According to Lewicki et al. (1985:249), men and nations will act rationally when all other possibilities have been exhausted. Within the context of negotiation, expert power is the most common form of power in use. Expert power refers to the persuasive, influential nature of the information itself. It refers to the accumulation and presentation of information that will change the other’s point of view on an issue.
Lewicki et al. are of the opinion that expert power is a special form of information power. Information power can be used by anyone who has studied and prepared his position for negotiation. Expert power, according to this author, is accorded to those who are seen as having mastered and organized a great wealth of information.
Lewicki et al. are of the opinion that there are methods by which a negotiator can establish him or herself as an expert in the eyes of the other party:
- By citing facts and figures.
- By ‘name dropping’.
- By citing examples of detailed experiences gained in well-known institutions.
- By being known through the press or through other people, or through writing articles in well-known journals (by being visible).
Presentation of information:
Within the context of negotiation, information power is at the heart of expert power. Even in the simplest negotiation, the way that information is presented could make a large impact on the outcome. In the light of this it can be seen that visual aids like charts, graphs and good statistics have a substantial impact on a negotiation. Market research on other prices in the area, on consumer’s opinions and on financial position and the interest of suppliers is important information to gather when preparing oneself. Care should be taken that this information is trustworthy, since if it is proved to be untrue this could damage the trust built through negotiation in a serious way.
Information power is often used in a distributive way so that information is manipulated to control the options open to the other party. For example, the other’s choice of behaviour is influenced by sending him positive information about the option we want him to choose, or by concealing information about an option we don’t want him to choose.
In some cases experts are brought into negotiations since people are less likely to argue with a perceived expert in the area of his expertise. To really take on the challenge, the non-expert would probably have to consult with another expert, which is costly, time consuming and somewhat risky. The lack of confidence of the non-expert is often quite visible in his body language, posture and manner speaking.
Countering good information:
Countering information power can be a real problem. When information or an expert is brought in to counter the other side’s information, it can lead to an escalation in conflict with either a negative result of no resolution of the conflict and hence agreement; or a positive result which leads to a search for other alternatives which could be beneficial to the negotiation process. So the best approach would be to:
- Explore all the information at hand
- See an expert for what he is. All experts have abilities in a certain field, but seldom over the whole field covered by the negotiation.
- Either specify or generalize depending on the posturing of the opposition. For example, if the opponent comes with very specific information, an effective counter would be to return with very general information.
It is common to identify with and be influenced by a person because of his personality or behavioural style. The charisma of that person forms the basis of referent power. A person with charisma is admired because of his or her personality. The strength of a person’s charisma is an indication of his or her referent power. Charisma is a term used to describe the magnetic personalities of some politicians, entertainers and sports figures. Some managers are also regarded by their subordinates as extremely charismatic.
Referent power is sometimes referred to as personal power. Referent (or personal) power is based on the target’s attraction to the power holder – liking, perceived similarity, admiration, desire to be close to or friendly with the power holder. This attraction may be based on physical attractiveness, dress, mannerisms, lifestyle or position, but can also include friendliness, congeniality, honesty, integrity and so on.
Truly charismatic people – those who have a unique blend of physical characteristics, speech, mannerisms and self-confidence- are able to influence very large groups of people by their actions. Referent power is based on the need of an individual to identify with people of influence or attractiveness. The more the target admires or identifies with an individual, the more referent influence the power holder has and the more control he can exert because of this identification. This form of power is often regarded as one of the strongest in negotiation.
In international negotiations governments realise the importance of sending professional negotiators or individuals with special qualities of referent power to negotiate on their behalf. If personal power is abused by any side it can lead to tremendous distrust between the parties involved. Personal power is seldom associated with destructive tactics of any form, because individuals with an abundance o personal power will often try to find those agreements that could befit both sides as not to leave any victims in their wake and thus lose their source of attractiveness.
The personal integrity of an individual in the opponent’s team could be a very strong from of common ground in negotiations. Many negotiators fall back on the integrity of the parties and the relationships built up between individuals as the strongest bond that exists between negotiating parties. The very existence of this bond will encourage them to find solutions for any conflict that may occur.