Referent Power Information Expertise

Expertise conveys integrity in the individual who possesses specialised information. Learn how you might counter the expert and how to understand the limits of their personal referent power

During the previous two installments of The Negotiation Times, we examined Parity in Power and situated the five different types of Interpersonal Power that are at work. We looked at Legitimate Power, Reward Power and Coercive Power in considerable detail. This final article will complete this three part series by delving more deeply into the remaining two types of Interpersonal Power - Expert Power and Referent Power.

- Legitimate power
- Reward power
- Coercive power
- Expert power
- Referent power

Expert Power

Any individual person who has an expertise that is highly valued possesses expert power. Experts have power even though their status might be regarded as being low. An person may have expert knowledge about technical, administrative, or personal matters. The harder it becomes to replace an expert; the higher becomes the degree of expert power that they possess. Expert power is occasionally called information power and is frequently a personal trait of the individual.

A personal assistant for example, who has lower status in the organisation may also possess a degree of high expert power because they have extensive knowledge of how the business operates such as knowing where everything is located or are able to deal with difficult situations.

Lewicki et al. (1985:249) states that people and countries will act sensibly when they have used up all other available possibilities. In any negotiation situation, expert power is the most standard type of power that is applied. Expert power consists of the persuasive nature of the information itself. It pertains to the amassing of information and how it is presented and is used with the intent of changing of how a counter party views the issues.

It is the contention of Lewicki et al. (1985:251) that expert power is a unique kind of information power. Information power can be applied by any individual who has studied and prepared their position prior to the start of a negotiation. According to Lewicki et al, expert power is rendered to any individual who are perceived as having mastered and organized a great abundance of information.

Lewicki et al. believe that there are processes that a negotiator can use to establish their expertise in the mind of the other party:


By quoting facts and figures.

By 'name dropping'.

By referring to documented examples of highly regarded institutions.

By becoming visible with the press or other people, or from published works in recognized journals.

Presentation of information

From the negotiation perspective, information power is at the central core of expert power. The manner in how information is presented can severely impact the results of even the simplest negotiation. From this viewpoint, it is apparent that visual aids like charts, graphs and good statistics have a significant influence on a negotiation. In preparation for a negotiation some of the more important and relevant information that should be gathered prior might include, researching the market on other prices in the area, researching consumer opinions, and the financial position and the interests of local suppliers. Always be cautious with this information and always ensure that the information is reliable. If the information you've acquired is shown to be untrue, the consequence might be that you might seriously damage the trust already built into the negotiation in a serious manner.

Information power is commonly applied in a distributive manner. This allows the information to be manipulated so that it can manage the options that are available to the other party. The counter party's choice of behaviour for example, is affected by transmitting positive information to your opponent about the option we want them to opt for, or by hiding information about an option we don't want them to choose.

There are a few instances where experts are introduced into the negotiations because people are less likely to bicker with a perceived expert in their field of expertise. To effectively tackle this challenge, the non-expert would most likely have to consult with another expert. This would be expensive, time consuming and entail some risk. The non-expert would visibly expose their lack through their body language, posture and speech.

Countering good information

Countering information power can be problematic. When information or an expert is brought in to counter act the other side's information, the dispute could escalate. The resulting effect of escalation will be negative as there will likely be no resolution or agreement. On the other hand, a positive result could occur where the parties seek positive alternative solutions during the negotiation process.

So the best approach would be to:

Explore all the information at hand

You must recognise the expert for what they really are. All experts possess an expertise in a certain field, but rarely does their expertise extend to cover the entire field under discussion in the negotiations.

One should be either very specific or very general in their negotiations. It all depends on the posturing of the opposition. For example, should your counter party present information that is very specific, you can effectively counter by offering very general information in return.

Referent Power

Normally, people are influenced and tend to identify with a person because of their personality or behaviour.. The magnetic appeal of this individual forms the basis of referent power. A person with an appealing personality is admired because of their personality. The power of an individual's appeal is an indication of their referent power. Charisma is a term used to describe the magnetic personalities of some politicians, entertainers and sports figures. There are also a few managers who are also seen by their subordinates as possessing this magnetic appeal.

Referent power is occasionally called personal power. It is premised 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 due to physical attractiveness, dress, mannerisms, lifestyle or position, but can also include friendliness, congeniality, honesty, integrity and so on.

People who are truly charismatic are those individuals who possess a distinct mix of physical traits, speech, mannerisms and self-confidence. They are capable of influencing a very large group of people by their actions. Referent power stems from the need of an individual to identify with people of influence or attractiveness. The greater a person admires or identifies with an individual, the more referent influence can be exerted by the power holder which gives them more control because of this identification. This type of power is often considered as one of the most potent in a negotiation.

Governments that negotiate internationally understand how vital it is to send professional negotiators or individuals who possess special qualities of referent power when negotiating on their behalf. If personal power is misused by any of the negotiating parties, the consequence could result in an immense lack of trust. Personal power is rarely affiliated with destructive tactics of any kind, because individuals with an abundance of personal power will frequently seek to discover agreements that could augment both parties and not leave any victims in the aftermath as they would lose their source of attractiveness.

The personal integrity of an person in the counter party's negotiation team could be a powerful foundation for common ground in negotiations. Many negotiators utilise the integrity of the parties and the established relationship between individuals as the strongest bond that exists between negotiating parties. The bond which stems from their integrity encourages the parties to find solutions for any conflict that may arise.

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


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