Assess the Extent of Real or Attributed Power and Consider the Source of Power to Develop a Negotiation Strategy

Power, whether real or perceived, can influence negotiations, and comes from several sources: privilege, intimidation, withholding resources, etc. When preparing for a meeting with others to resolve a controversy or dispute, it is important to consider the power sources of all the participants. This article examines the source of power and extent of that power may help with developing a negotiation strategy.

Power and Negotiation: Assess the Extent of Real or Attributed Power and Consider the Source of Power to Develop a Negotiation Strategy

Power, whether real or perceived, can influence negotiations, and comes from several sources: privilege, intimidation, withholding resources, etc. When preparing for a meeting with others to resolve a controversy or dispute, it is important to consider the power sources of all the participants. This article examines the source of power and extent of that power may help with developing a negotiation strategy.

Sources of Power


Privilege is not limited to financial or social status. Its source can develop from and be associated with gender, ethnic background, geographic region, religious affiliation, and more. When individuals are engaged in a controversy, privilege, provides, if not real, at least the perception of higher status. This view then gives the negotiator power, or it could lead the person to overestimate their perceived power advantage.

Depending on the origins of the dispute, family, workplace, or other, the way privilege is used to leverage control or power can range from treating someone as inferior to so unimportant that they do not need to be listened to during the negotiations. The individual in the privileged or higher position controls how decisions are made and doles out a variety of “punishments” when questioned or if offers are not accepted.

When people have titles or are in jobs that are viewed as powerful, such as a doctor, judge or CEO, people are less likely to confront them. People are taught from an early age to respect those who hold a higher status and to not question authority.


Intimidation can take on several forms from just a stern glance or gestures, to yelling and threats. When intimidation gets out of control, and turns into physical or significant emotional abuse, the negotiations will fail. Emotional abuse can be subtle, like keeping a person from interacting with others. Isolation makes it harder for someone to get resources to help resolve a dispute. People, who use intimidation, typically have learned from a very early age that yelling or having some type of temper tantrum helped get them what they wanted.

Again, the origination of the dispute may influence the types of intimidation used. In family disputes, children are often used as pawns by one parent to get back at the other. Threatening not to let the children visit the other parent can intimidate some so they do not continue with their joint custody demand.

Withholding Resources

There are several abuses that people use to gain power or maintain control over another, or to prevail in a dispute. Utilizing economic power is prevalent in workplace related disputes. Not giving an employee acknowledgment or recognitions for doing a good job can weaken an employee’s negotiating power.

Acknowledgment, recognition, and validation are valuable currencies, just another form of legal tender. Not providing a deserved raise, not providing sufficient resources, so that a person can effectively do their job, or not giving a person time off for family issues are other means used to withhold resources and maintain power.

Overcoming Power Imbalances

Just as there are a few sources of power, there are a number of approaches and techniques one could include when developing a negotiation plan.


Before beginning a negotiation session, understand what the impact of not having found a solution to the dispute has cost all the participants. Typically, it can take years to get a trial date, or discovery can be costly. Reminding everyone of the benefits of settling sooner, rather than later, helps gets some individuals in a better frame of mind, and can also help to soften unrealistic positions.

This sense of urgency, fear of missing out (FOMO), and its benefit is at play all around us: “The sale ends tomorrow!” People do not want to miss an opportunity. Settling can be an economic benefit to all negotiation participants. Resolving the dispute and moving on with their lives typically benefits everyone.

There is one significant exception to FOMO, and that is the person who feels powerless, the world is against them, or they can never win. These individuals get their perceived power from playing the “victim”. “Poor me.” If this is their source of power, know that negotiating will take longer, and to have a good outcome, creative forms of currency are necessary—especially those that feed the ego. Examples might include naming something after them, featuring them in the company newsletter, or other ego-nurturing commodity.

Some of these individuals are so proficient at claiming that the world is against them that they rise to the level of “professional victim”. They do not want the controversy or dispute to end, because their power comes from getting attention by complaining: “poor me!” If the dispute is resolved, what will they have to whine about?

Quid Pro Quo

When a person does something for someone else, they will often feel obligated to return the favor. This technique can be tested even before the negotiations begin by simply accommodating the other side’s request for the time, date or location of the negotiation. This is an easy way to determine how likely the other side will return the favor and accommodate some small request. Bringing some food to the negotiation is subconsciously viewed as a “gift.” People often feel obligated to provide something later in the negotiation, like modifying an offer or suggesting a proposal not mentioned previously.

A common example of quid pro quo occurs almost daily in the mail, when charities send a “gift”, such as note pad or sheet of labels with the recipient’s address on them. The organization gave a “gift”, so the recipient is more likely to make a donation in return.

Offering something is also a subtle way to have the negotiators across the table view the person who brought the bagels or cookies as human. This change in perspective can be just enough to allow the negotiations to proceed more smoothly.

Minimize Change

People like consistency, and change is the number one cause of conflict. When looking for solutions during negotiations, think about ways to either reduce the number of changes, or develop ways to have the changes take place over time, or in smaller increments, rather than all at once.

People get into routines, and when that pattern is disrupted, they get stressed and this often triggers other negative emotions that can inhibit constructive negotiation. If during the negotiations the other side uses a term or phrase, which could be construed as an idea for change, acknowledge their comment, and imply that it is a creative way to implement a change. Again this is another way to use the “ego currency”.

Join In

People want to be part of the herd. They want to know what other people have done in similar situations. More than likely, they will do something, if they think others have done it. Before any negotiation begins, assess all the issues to be discussed and resolved, and specifically identify those issues where using examples of others accepting a particular type of offer might be beneficial. If they believe that others have done something similar or accepted a similar offer, this can help convince a person to move from a previously fixed position.

Again, remember that giving the person an “ego” out also helps. For example, an attorney might say to their very resistant client, “The majority of our clients have felt satisfied with similar outcomes and have been able to move forward with very successful careers.”


People do not want to be told what to do. They prefer to decide for themselves. It is like small children when a parent says, “Don’t do that!” and the child’s response is to fold their arms across their chest and give that defiant look that says, “Oh, yah!”

Every client is different—just as every other person sitting around the negotiation table is different. Empowering people to come up with solutions that meet their unique needs, means the negotiations are more likely to end successfully, and agreements are more likely to be honored and carried out—because the disputants created the solutions. It is theirs. Again, the ego need is met.

One technique that can help people better prepare for a negotiation is to generate a list of multiple options for every issue to be resolved. Planning in advance and considering multiple options gives more power to the negotiator. It also means the ideas can be thought through and fewer mistakes will be made, rather than making spur-of-the-moment decisions during the negotiations. Skilled negotiators will do this exercise for their side, and then do it as if they were part of the other side’s team. Understanding what might be important or resonate with the other side helps identify potential creative solutions that will end negotiations on a positive note.

Remember, courts are not designed to provide creative solutions. They are limited to “Do it” “Don’t do it”, “Pay it”, or “Don’t pay it”. Creative solutions are best left to those who will have to live with the outcome.


Assess the extent of real or attributed power for every individual participating in a negotiation, and then consider the source of that power: real or perceived. Next, explore the five major ways to minimize power: FOMO, quid pro quo, minimize change, join in, and self-design. Then develop a negotiation strategy with multiple creative options and increase the probability of a satisfying outcome.

TES founder, Nancy Neal Yeend, has served as a mediator for over 30 years, and her mediation practice focuses on helping businesses resolve disputes from pre-litigation thru trial and even at the appellate level. In addition, she mediates ADA cases that emanate from the DOJ for the Key Bridge Foundation.

During her career, she often reflected on “What if they had done ‘X’ then could the conflict have been avoided?” The answer is a resounding “yes”! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Research demonstrates that preventing conflict has huge benefits to businesses. Controversies and conflict cause stress, and people working in stressful situations are more likely to develop significant health issues: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer.

Reducing and preventing stress has multiple benefits: productivity increases, and absenteeism is reduced, which in turn helps reduce healthcare costs. These factors significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. Our name, The End Strategy, evolved from the desire to tell people, up front, what TES does. The End Strategy says it all—TES helps put an end to business related conflict. There is also a historical footnote: the founder’s last name, Yeend, means “the end” in old English!

Ms. Yeend can be contacted at (503) 481-2986 or by e-mail to

Save and Share:

event themes - theme rewards