The Dynamics of Power and Persuasion
Characterized by multiple parties with interdependent goals, the negotiation process can involve a number of strategies and tactics that help parties maximize their outcomes. Some of the most useful and versatile of these strategies are forms of persuasion. Persuasion aims to change the behavior, attitudes, or beliefs of another party in some way for the benefit of the persuader, but how can one effectively use such a strategy in a negotiation scenario? Persuasion is an activity made necessary by the fact that all of us differ in our goals and there are many ways that one can go about achieving them. We all take part in persuasive activity throughout our regular social interactions every day. There is a great deal of skill and planning that goes into effective persuasion and there are many techniques one can use to implement it productively during a negotiation. However, there are many pitfalls to this tactic and if used haphazardly can leave one in a position that makes them look much less credible in a negotiation, hurting one’s chances of achieving their desired outcome. First, we must define persuasion and persuasive activities. Persuasion in all cases is a conscious and strategic activity meant to guide another party toward the adoption of a persuader-preferred course of action. Although this definition is a very general explanation of persuasion, it encompasses more specific psychological concepts such as influence, control, and attitude change (Levine p.4). Persuasion aims to change the frame of another person in some way. The three main pathways of persuasive efforts are shaping, reinforcing, and changing. Reasoning, emotional appeals, and other symbolic actions on the part of the persuader are all meant to change the frame of the other party towards one’s own views and beliefs (Perloff p.19). These techniques are implemented when a threat to one person’s goals is observed and the expenditure of a persuasive effort is worth the risks of a slow moving negotiation or possible impasse (Reardon p.2-3). Second, we must understand what persuasion is and what it is not. A persuasive effort is not always in the best interest of the persuadee, but never deprives the other party of other options. The act of persuading someone can carry a number of negative connotations that can be associated with other activities such as coercion, deceit, or manipulation. Persuasion does lie along a continuum of these social influences, but is differentiated by the methods used and is not an inherently exploitative force (Levine p.4) (Perloff p.14). The skill in this strategy lies in identifying what matters to the other party being persuaded and then shaping ones arguments to guide their thinking. One must present him or herself in a credible manner and encourage the other party to see a different perspective without setting them up as in manipulation, lying to them as in deceit, or threatening a person as in coercion (Reardon p.2). This does not mean that persuasion is a totally candid strategy, just one that aims to portray your own version of reality and have the other party adopt that mode of thinking. Persuasion in itself cannot be considered an unethical activity for these reasons, but the outcome or purposes behind persuasive strategies can be. Most ethical judgments in a negotiation are based on honesty and truth telling.
Third, we must understand what kinds of variables a negotiator has to manage in order to execute an effective persuasive effort. Changing someone else’s behavior can prove to be a monumental or even near impossible task depending on the characteristics of the situation. The first step in any persuasive effort revolves around information gathering much like preparing for any negotiation. The most important step to this process involves gaining an understanding of the frames and attitudes that the other party brings to the table. These are the variables that must be...
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