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Imbalance of Power!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Implicit in every negotiation is the question of who holds the power?   “Power” is the “… respective abilit[y] of each person in the relationship to influence each other and to direct the relationship.” ( This balance of power does not remain in the same person throughout the negotiation. It will alternate depending upon the issue under discussion. For example, in a divorce negotiation, one spouse may hold the balance of power when discussing child custody while the other spouse may hold the balance of power when discussing the property settlement.

“Power “ stems from different sources such as resources, knowledge and information, moral conviction, ability to inflict pain, personal traits advantageous in a negotiation and perception (See: Waldman, Ellen, Mediation Ethics (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Ca. 2011) at 94-95).

Yet there are also different types of power. As explained in a Harvard PONS blog post dated April 27, 2021 entitled “3 Types of Power in Negotiation” by the PON staff, these types of power are either objective or psychological in nature. (Id.)

One type of power stems from a “lack of dependence on others.” In short, it is one’s Best Alternative to A Negotiated Agreement or BATNA. If one has a very good or strong alternative to settling, then she is not so dependent on the opposing party to reach a deal. She can walk away knowing that her alternative or BATNA is a very good alternative. (Id.)

A second type of power is “role power”. Because of one’s position, role, or title, one has the authority or power to control the outcome. An obvious example is a promotion or salary increase in an any organization.  By virtue of management’s position, title or role, management has a good deal of “power” over whether that promotion or salary increase will be given to an employee.  (Id.)

The third form of power is psychological: does one have a psychological sense of power aka confidence in a negotiation even though objectively, one may lack that “power”? Walking into a negotiation feeling very confident creates a form of power that objectively may be absent.  Yet this same sense of psychological power or confidence will have the same effect- positive or negative- as objectively having power. Feeling powerful is just as beneficial in a negotiation as being powerful. (Id.)

So, when negotiating, think about the power dynamics at play and especially where lies the balance of power. And to have a successful negotiation, use either an objective or psychological form of power or both to attain your goals.

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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