Abuse of Power in Negotiations

By

Daniel Merz, Ph.D.

There are occasions in negotiation or mediation where a member of one party will use intimidation or in some instances bullying tactics to gain a power advantage. These tactics present difficult and emotionally challenging management moments for the negotiator. Although such tactics more often emerge in custody or divorce situations, they can also surface in business and corporate negotiation sessions. The abuse of power immediately imposes an imbalance on the process. 

What I am about to describe are a series of interventions that a negotiator can use to achieve a fair and equitable balance of power to the negotiation process. I want to begin by noting that there are a variety of variables that will influence the use and abuse of power. Among these are age, gender, race, knowledge, experience, position, and economic status. Each of these variables may influence the balance of power. Four skills may help you establish a power balance that can move the process forward.

First, is recognizing the importance and contribution of each party. Acknowledging the presence of each party can be a helpful way to open negotiations with an eye to combating the abuse of power. A mediator and good negotiator needs to be able to establish effective and respectful relationships with the parties involved. 

  • At times the clients’ desire to settle can be used as a persuasive plea to end the use of power tactics. 
  • At other times, firmly interrupting the party being abusive or intimidating can end the tactic.
  • It is important to give the other parties time to speak and ask questions. 
  • More than simply encouraging parties to speak, power balance can be enhanced by ensuring equal time to do so. For instance, a mediator might interrupt an aggressive and intimidating client and say, “Excuse me, I am curious about what the other client is wanting to convey or express at this moment”. 
  • Whatever tactic is used, avoiding making quick judgments or assumptions that a party is using inappropriate negotiating behavior is also wise. 
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WATER NEGOTIATIONS

NEGOTIATING TO PUT WATER BACK INTO STREAMS

Negotiations are Key

Headlines like these have become familiar to those who follow western water issues:  “Megadrought Stresses Stream Systems and Water Users”  “Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery in Danger From Lack of Water”.   In the face of a continuing megadrought—we are told the banner snowpack of 2022-2023 is likely just a blip—how to preserve and improve streamflows to promote healthy ecosystems?  The staff at the Colorado Water Trust (CWT) (www.coloradowatertrust.org) goes to work every day to try to answer these questions.  They’ve been remarkably successful, megadrought and all: since 2001, CWT has put over 74,000 acre-feet of water back into Colorado’s streams.   

The Colorado Water Trust was founded about 20 years ago by a bunch of so-called “water buffaloes”—water attorneys and engineers who spent their workdays developing water rights to be diverted by thirsty cities and industrial users, and who thought it was time to find a way to put water back into streams.  From the beginning, the concept was to find willing water rights owners and then use legal tools available under the prior appropriation doctrine to put water back into streams, while still preserving the underlying water rights.  Many CWT water rights transactions involve a sharing arrangement or temporary lease, not a permanent transfer, and often involve the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state agency authorized to hold and protect instream flow water rights.  

When a suitable water right is identified, CWT evaluates the most effective legal means to return the water to the stream while maintaining the owner’s property interest.  Negotiations are key in this effort:  both negotiations with the water rights owner to arrive at a workable sharing or lease agreement, negotiations with CWCB to establish an instream flow use of the water right, subject to the terms negotiated with the water right owner, and negotiations with neighboring water users who may be impacted. 

An Example

One prominent project involves a “5 in 10” year lease, authorizing the release of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to benefit the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs, Colorado in “five years out of ten”.  Conceived of during the extremely dry summer of 2012, the project has put over 17,000 acre-feet of water into the Yampa River and allowed the City of Steamboat Springs to maintain its recreational water uses during exceptionally dry summers, helped the city meet water quality standards at its wastewater discharge outfall, and has generally benefitted aquatic life in the Yampa River.

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Can We Talk about Barriers? — Introverts and Scientists

by

Janet L. D. Vogel

During my time in Federal leadership and program management–and also as an information technology specialist–I have experienced a couple of often overlooked barriers to negotiation and conflict resolution.

First, scientists and technologists may be more likely to have “introverted” personalities and to be “quieter” in nature. How we approach an issue resolution with people that have different traits will often lead us to success or disaster. Before addressing a conflict it is important to determine not only what the goals and interests of the other party may be but also to understand their personality traits. respecting our different natures and traits will keep the door open for successful resolution.

Second, each functional discipline uses its own “language.” This is the use of terminology or acronyms that are meaningful for us, but don’t necessarily translate to anything of meaning to our adversaries/co-negotiators/partners. For example, “techie talk” or “environmental speak” can sound like gibberish and become meaningless to others. It is like what Charlie Brown hears when his teacher talks –“wah, wah, wah, wah.” The effort to meet the audience on their own turf so that they can understand what we are saying is critical for success. We must take extra steps to translate our pitch into something meaningful in their world. For example, by using their measures of success, we can stress the benefit to them of taking a certain action, and the impact or consequences, to their business or program if action is not taken.

It may take a little homework but when we communicate with our audience in mind the likelihood of success is greatly improved.

Janet L. D. Vogel, President, The Vogel Group (TVG) LLC

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Negotiation Training for Natural Resource Professionals

Negotiation Guidance Associates offers online training courses in negotiation skills for natural resource professionals. Dates are open for online training through 2024.

Essentials of Natural Resource Negotiation

Essentials of Natural Resource Negotiation.

Enhanced Skills in Natural Resource Negotiation

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Or contact Dr. Berton Lee Lamb

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Preparing for Negotiation On the Fly

by

Berton Lee Lamb and Susan K. Driver

We often read the advice that we should be well prepared for negotiation. This is sometimes directed at one-on-one negotiations. Buying a car is an example. “Do your research beforehand” they advise. This sounds straightforward but even a simple negotiation can become quite complicated and time-consuming. You are not sure how much preparation is enough.

The problem of preparing for a multi-party negotiation can be even more daunting. It may actually be impossible to know when we have sufficiently prepared! Yet trying to be overly comprehensive may reduce your effectiveness. 

Although there are a few basic lessons about multi-party negotiations, preparation is usually one of the main recommendations. In reality, we often find ourselves getting ready for negotiations “on the fly.” We simply don’t have the time or resources to carry out a comprehensive preparation.

Here is a guide for preparing to negotiate “on the fly:”

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American Negotiating Style: Part 4

I recently found a blog post that summarizes some useful negotiation lessons. The blog is entitled Your “Tools for Success in the United States.”

The five-part guidance for the first-time negotiator in the Unites States is informative about what to watch out for and what not to do. I have listed the guidelines along with comments from people with experience in negotiating with Americans. I have also added a section on “Preparation.”

  • Sense of Urgency–Quick results

Commenters:

“It is important to be clear and direct when negotiating with Americans.” (Sherk)

“Turkish people, like many Asian cultures, may not explicitly state what they really want to say but expect people to understand immediately. This is why Turkish people in negotiations with Americans have to be clear about what they say. When Americans say “No” they mean it as an absolute answer. However, some Turkish people, when they are asked a question, if they answer “No” they might expect an American to ask again. But Americans do not ask the second time. They accept No as No. Americans give importance to punctuality. Thus, you have to be on time for appointments and meetings.” (Conka)

“Be prepared for the clash between the long- and short-term outlook.” (Mehta)

“America is a large diverse country with many regional sub-cultures. Although Americans are generally friendly, it is sometimes important to learn if your opposite number is someone who wishes to be very direct.” (Sherk)

  • Informality–

Commenters:

“In the informal negotiations I have observed–especially between tourists and shopkeepers–Americans like to feel special, like VIPs. When they are treated this way they seem to be more open to doing business (and spending money) because they feel others have recognized their importance and can be trusted.” (Alebouni)

“The most important thing to remember about International negotiations is that personal relationships are paramount.” (Mehta)

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American Negotiating Style: Part 2

How do others see us? This is a great question and it is especially important to understand how we are viewed as negotiators. (Click here to read Part 1)

Recently, I was teaching the negotiation segment of a course at the Office of Personnel Management’s Eastern Executive Seminar Center. About half the students were American and half were from the government of India. We started talking about national negotiating styles, so I asked “What do you see as the American negotiation style?”  The first answer from the Indian government personnel was “Arrogant!”

Wow! That was a surprise but it put me in mind if a report from the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP). Continue reading

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NGA Sponsors Lamb Prize in Political Science

 The Bert & Phyllis Lamb Prize in Political Science

Negotiation Guidance Associates is pleased to announce the Bert and Phyllis Lamb Prize in Political Science.

The Lamb Prize has been awarded annually since 2014.

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Donna Lybecker, Ph.D. Department of Political Science, Idaho State University.

Visit www.lambprize.org to learn more.

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Empathy as One Cornerstone of Mediation

by

Daniel Merz, Ph.D.

Generally speaking, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for the purpose of valuing a person’s perspective and avoiding shame and judgment.  It’s the ability to identify what someone is thinking or feeling and respond to their thoughts or feelings with appropriate emotion. In mediation the use of empathic statements conveys to clients that the mediator has a respectful understanding of their thoughts and feelings (Gordon, 2015).

When dialog in the mediation process becomes stuck or unproductive, the use of empathic skills can lead to getting the conversation back on a more productive track. Daniel Goleman (1995) contends that empathy takes three forms, Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate. Cognitive empathy in Goleman’s view is the ability to understand another person’s way of processing information or thoughts. It is also referred to as perspective taking. A second form of empathy is what Goleman refers to as Emotional empathy. This is the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes and identify with their feelings or emotions. Affective intimacy is another way of describing emotional intimacy. With Emotional empathy the listener is giving attention to the feelings being expressed behind a person’s verbal statements. With Compassionate empathy the listener is being moved to offer some form of help or support when she/he feels moved by the feelings and emotions being expressed by an individual. 

Example Dialogue

The use of empathy will sustain dialogue during conflict because it has a good chance of keeping parties engaged in the process (Eddy, 2017). On occasion a mediator will encounter parties that engage in high conflict behavior. There can a noticeable atmosphere of tension in the room. Empathic skills used properly can reduce tension and keep parties involved in the mediation process. 

Here are two examples of possible mediator statements:

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Digital Negotiating: Video-conferences

Negotiating by video-conference, such as Zoom or MS Teams, has recently become more common.  When reviewing the on-line literature on this subject it became apparent that there is less research available about how to conduct a video negotiation. But there are a few lessons that might be helpful:

  1. Video-conference negotiations are more similar to telephone negotiations than they are to email negotiations.
  2. In a video conference you are setting the stage and framing the image you want to convey. For this reason it is important to prepare the scene.
  3. Marshall Bright observed that the most important thing you can do to help video-conferences succeed is to figure out your strategy before you start.
  4. Technical difficulties are to be expected; practice using the conference apps before your negotiation begins. Don’t let glitches throw you off balance.
  5. Video increases the chances to send unwanted signals.

Helpful Hints:

These folks give some great basic Zoom advice. 

How to look your best on a video call.

Links:

Marshall Bright on How to Negotiate via Zoom

Katherine Shonk writes about On-line Negotiating

Marty Latz Explains the Benefits and Pitfalls of Zoom Negotiations

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