Power in Negotiations
Dr. Bruce Fortado
University of North Florida
What is power in the context of negotiations?
One definition is “the ability to move toward your
goals in view of your counterpart’s strength.”
Cohen (1980: 51) talks about “the capacity to get
things done- to exercise control over people, events, situations, and oneself.”
Power is a rather
difficult concept to grasp.
There are many different sources of power, as we will see below.
Power is also largely a perceptual matter, rather than something that can be tangibly measured.
The term “power” tends to evoke negative connotations.
This is unjustified.
either use or misuse power.
Only situational judgments are possible.
Objections can be raised
over both the means used and the ends one seeks.
Much has been written about when too much
power is concentrated in the hands of a few, abuses tend to follow.
Most of us have heard the
saying “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
These reservations are the
foundation for instituting checks and balances in our government bodies and the organizational
Power itself, however, is neither good or bad.
It is simply a means to an end.
Power is frequently categorized as reward power, coercive power, legitimate power,
expert power (including controlling information), and referent power (including having
One could quibble that it is difficult to divide reward and coercive power.
instance, is withholding a formerly given award a case of exercising reward power or coercive
I doubt such debates have much to really offer us.
Cohen (1980) goes into far greater depth.
Whether this gives us a much better grasp of
the matter, or if it is confusing and redundant, is a good question.
1. The power of competition
. When a great number of people want something, or others hold
something in high value, one can be said to have power.
Most of us have heard the saying it is
easier to get a job when you already hold a job.
It is best to enter a negotiation with options (the
Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).
This way, people are less likely to take you
The power of legitimacy
People often accept signs, documents, and other forms of the
printed word easily and without asking any questions.
You can also talk about legitimate power
in terms of one’s family tree (being a blue blood or having famous relatives), where you live,
your degrees, your job, and the like.