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Power: Up in Smoke

Brian Buck
231023 Up In Smoke
© Scotwork NA

Did you hear the one about the lawyer who insured his cigars against fire? It’s a great yarn on how fluid power can be. Power is not static — it changes based on the marketplace, the players involved, the issues at play, and a variety of other factors. Therefore, how we use our power becomes paramount to the outcome of a negotiation. However, it can also have a profound impact on how the other side will use their power.

First, the story about the lawyer . . .

A lawyer purchased a box of 24 very rare and expensive cigars. Seeking to protect his investment, he had the cigars insured against theft and, believe it or not, fire. Shortly after the insurance company sold him his policy, and before the first premium could be paid, the lawyer had smoked his entire box of cigars.

He then filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, he stated that the cigars were lost in a series of small fires.

The insurance company refused to pay the claim on the grounds that the insured had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion, and the cigars were not actually lost to a fire.

The lawyer sued the insurance company — and won! While the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous, he noted that the insurance company did sell the policy, thereby making the cigars insurable. In addition, the insurance company had guaranteed that they would insure them against fire. Since they had not defined the standard by which to judge the “fire,” they were obligated to pay the claim.

Having incurred legal expenses to defend this claim and seeking to avoid a lengthy and even more costly appeals process, the insurance company accepted the judge’s ruling and paid up.

Once the lawyer cashed the check for the claim, the insurance company had him arrested for 24 counts of arson!

Lesson learned: Power is fluid.

The lawyer in this story had all the power to begin with. He had a valid insurance policy and, it seems, he knew exactly how he was going to wield his power. But as soon as the power shifted (when the check was cashed), the insurance company did what most people would do in that situation — they found a way to exact revenge.

When you’re in a position of power, it’s really tempting to wield that power to get what you want. However, knowing that the power dynamics will at some point shift, you need to be strategic regarding how you use that power. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you use your power:

  1. How could the power change? You want to understand your power dynamics and the factors that will impact your power. Just by exercising your power, your power can shift.

  2. How will the other side respond when the power changes? Assume the power will shift — it always does. When it does, examine how the other side might use their newfound power.

  3. Are the costs worth the gains? Just because you can use your power doesn’t mean you should. When power is used indiscriminately, the cost can be monetary, but it can also tax relationships, trust, and future collaborations.

Don’t let your power go up in smoke. Understand it so you can use it wisely.

We Can Help You Keep Your Power From Going Up in Smoke.

When it comes time to wield your power, you’ll want to be ready for the consequences — and there will be consequences. We can help! Draw on Scotwork’s nearly 50 years of real-world negotiating experience to help you stay in control of your power dynamic.

Talk to one of our experts today.

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