Negotiator Power Authority (Part 1 of 3)

As a negotiator, do you know the difference between power and authority? Learn how people use their position to influence and interact with their subordinates

To understand negotiations and the relationships (or common ground) that emanate, the study of power and its effect must first be fully understood. Every interaction and every social relationship, both inside and outside organisations, entails the usage of power. Gibson et al. (1991:329) views power as an easy means to accomplish things in the manner that you want them performed. The power of the manager who wants more financial resources for example, is in his skill to obtain these resources.

Power is comprised of a relationship between two or more people. The political scientist Robert Dahl (1957:202), encapsulates this important relational focus in his definition of power: 'A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do. A person or group cannot have power in isolation. Power has to be exercised or deployed, or have the potential of being deployed in relation to some other person or group. Power is similar to a currency exchange. It is meaningless unless linked or compared as an exchange commodity. Power is never linked to price, but always to value.'

Parity in Power

The concept of parity in power is crucial in any relationship. In a negotiation, parity of power is the perception by one party that the other side can counter any form of power with a similar or different form of power that would render the further escalation of power useless. Parity in power means that there must be a balance in power deployment. Parity in power is key to the behaviour of a successful negotiator.

In literature, power and authority are seen as distinct. Authority is viewed as the formal power that a person has because of the position that they possess in an organisation (Gibson et al. 1989:330). Directives are orders given by a manager in an authoritative position. These orders are followed because they must be followed. This means that people who hold higher positions have legal authority over subordinates in lower positions. Power is the unquestionable right of a person's position. This authority is accepted by subordinates and it is used vertically in organisations.

Influence, on the other hand, is simply potential power and is the least amount of power that a person can deploy. Throwing a karate punch on someone would demonstrate relative power. Yet, were they to warn someone that they possess a black belt in karate would mean that it is a potential resource that might be used. However, when power is used as a threat, it is crucial that the negotiator remembers that a threat only has power so long as it is never used. Once used, a threat loses all its value.

Interpersonal Power

French and Raven (1959:150-167) have proposed that there are five interpersonal bases of power that are important to negotiators.

  • Legitimate power
  • Reward power
  • Coercive power
  • Expert power
  • Referent power

This article will only look at Legitimate power in this edition of the Negotiation Times. The rest will be examined in the remaining interpersonal power bases in following editions.

Legitimate power comes from the ability to influence because of position. People at higher levels have power over the people below. However, each person with legitimate power applies their own individual style.

Subordinates have a primary function in the use of legitimate power. When subordinates accept the power as legitimate, they comply. However, the culture, customs and value systems of an organisation determine the limits of legitimate power. This means that people will often act on directions, even the ones they don't like, because it's the right and proper thing to do, and because they are obliged to do so. This is legitimate power.

Legitimate power is applied to negotiations in a variety of ways. People with a lot of legitimate power could use their authority to 'instruct' other parties to adhere to certain procedures. Depending on the authority level of the individual, the other negotiators could follow whatever is decided by completely relying on the abilities of the individual in authority.

Occasionally, one party will use legitimate power as a tactic against another party by:

  1. Introducing someone who can influence important decisions, and who has credibility with the other party, or by
  2. Assigning a lot of legitimate power to an individual(s) in opposing parties to use the need for power and status that exists in all individuals to get major concessions from them. This is occasionally called 'ingratiation' or stroking.

It is vital to understand that legitimate power only has influence if it is viewed by others because it occurs only in a social structure. A few negotiators may try to deny the other party some of their legitimate power by:

  1. Preventing them from talking;
  2. Preferring to make reciprocal offers while insisting the other party continue to make concessions;
  3. Disregarding previous agreements on how to proceed; or
  4. Preventing the other party from having any legitimate position of significance

In these situations a negotiator may find it necessary to establish some minimal legitimate authority before they proceed. In some instances, they may be advised to refuse to proceed until the other party shows by their behaviour, that the authority is in place. When a small base of legitimate authority is established, a skillful negotiator can increase it.

[ Part I ]      [ Part II ]      [ Part III ]

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3 of 3 people found the following comment useful:

Negotiations and Use OF - 2012 Jul 31
Commentator: Joyce Fields-Mullins (United States - Arkansas)

"This is very helpful. I was missing a fine point there, between referent and coercive power. Since they both rely on convincing your subject to want to, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish!!!"

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