Power plays in negotiations: Calling their bluff

Ever tried to negotiate a situation with someone who pulls a power play? It happens with ADA situations – and others.

It can look something like this:

your questions are answered with questions, not answers;

the person implies (or explicitly states) that you “don’t understand” the situation, the terms, etc.;

the person stalls with his/her responses;

the person selects which points you raise to answer – and ignores others.

These behaviors ignore the fact that either party in a negotation has a veto vote and can stop negotiating at any time. Power plays really are a bluff in most situations where there are other avenues of redress!

However, in some negotiating situations, power plays are a signal that you don’t want to get involved. For example, if an employer treats you like this, run or roll away quickly! Who wants to work for (or with) someone who treats you as if you’re not all that bright, who doesn’t listen to you, and who raises roadblacks to legitimate concerns you raise?

In other situations, such as dealing with ADA violations, you might want to simply confront the behavior at some point and say to the person: “I’ve noticed during our negotiations that you are (insert power play behavior here). We need to get beyond that if we’re going to settle this.”

As an advocate with over 25 years experience, I’ll warrant that almost every time I’ve done this it’s changed the dynamics. But I’ve also learned from experience when to even bother doing it. There are times when it’s not going to work and you can spot those.

In those situations, folks just come to the table with no intention of negotiating. They’re not “playing” when they pull power plays – they really believe they have all the power and don’t understand that negotiations involve two sides. In these situations, your time is being wasted by their insistence on getting their own way (which is their foregone conclusion) because no middle ground is likely to be achieved. It’s best at that point to either walk away or pursue other avenues of redress, including legal ones.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

2 responses to “Power plays in negotiations: Calling their bluff

  1. j3n

    “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense” offers excellent ways of recognizing and responding to such behavior.

    It is a book by Suzette Haden Elgin. Also, the website howstuffworks.com has an introduction to the skill.

  2. Thanks for the additional resources!

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