A subject that often comes up is how to deal with situations where we have limited power or where the other side seems to have no interest in negotiating with us. Memorably, one client asked me to give them the precise words or phrases that would make the person on the other side of the table say ‘yes’ to whatever they were proposing. They were asking for the equivalent to a negotiating Jedi mind trick.
Sadly, the last Jedi has long gone, if they ever existed, despite the recent census figures that showed there are more Jedis than Buddhists in the UK. Even Darren Brown with all of his NLP ‘magic’ cannot guarantee 100% compliance.
One of my colleagues, Tom Feinson recently wrote an eBook talking about power in negotiation and all of its sources (download it here).
Tom talks about power both in terms of hard power and soft power.
Typically, hard power is economic. It is defined by the options both parties have, the alternatives they can pursue and the incentives and sanctions they can bring to bear. What do each side have that the other would either like or rather avoid? Soft power is more about relationship, trust and the risks associated with change.
There is more to it than that, read his book!
What about when power is abused?
I, like any right-minded individual have been utterly appalled by the recent spate of instances of sexual exploitation which seemed to gather momentum following the high profile Weinstein case in Hollywood. Weinstein, “ass boil” that he is, (Jennifer Lawrence’s words, not mine), has yet to get his full come-uppance for the blatant abuse of his power to make or break young actress’s careers. That he is now a bankrupt and his name forever vilified is, I suppose, a start.
I could hardly believe my ears when this week the news broke of aid workers in Syria trading grain for sex. The United Nations and aid charities were recently hit with this “sex for grain” storm over the alleged abuse of women and girls in southern Syria. They faced claims that local men delivering aid on their behalf to desperately hungry families in the war-torn country were demanding sex in exchange for food.
Widows and divorcees were seen as particularly vulnerable as they had even less power to refuse in order to receive help. The alleged abuse is said to have started years ago but continues despite warnings that it was happening.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (himself subject to a number of sleaze allegations) stressed: “We are absolutely committed to a zero-tolerance approach. We won’t support agencies that engage in that kind of activity.” These assertions follow the Haiti prostitution scandal which has engulfed Oxfam, and claims of sexual misconduct at other aid charities.
Is stopping support for charity the solution? Of course not, you cannot feel anything but sympathy for the majority of hard working, caring Oxfam employees and supporters, who themselves feel destroyed by these revelations.
Should we be surprised that humanity should sink so low as to exploit the very weakest members of our world who most need our help? Maybe not. But we should certainly not be silent about it. Maybe that is where we can start to make a change. We have to support the good and expose the bad, and shout about it.
That is where our power to help redress this inequality may ultimately lie.