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It's Not About How Big You Are

Published: Jun 15 , 2017
Author: Alan Smith

Going in to negotiate with a party way bigger and in theory more powerful than you, can be a daunting experience.

But before you hop onto the back foot and cower into the meeting, have a think about resetting your internal clock by thoughtfully estimating the power that you have, the source of this power and the way you use that power in the negotiation.

Power can come from a number of places, the soft power that comes from relationships and shared visions to the harder nosed power that comes from incentives and sanctions that you can heap onto to the other side.

After one of the most dramatic UK election results in decades, the DUP, a political movement that was formed to fight a largely evangelical and one dimensional position, to keep Northern Ireland in the UK, has been handed the casting vote as Theresa May aims to form a workable Conservative government out of a hung parliament.

If you are anything like me you will have had limited knowledge of the DUP on the political landscape, or at least been very aware that the power they have had was very limited in overall terms. They certainly have much less muscle than the Conservative party who despite all the protestations to the contrary, did win a majority in the election.

However, with them now holding the 10 seats that take the Conservatives into a position of being able to form a government, it seems that their power, despite their size is fairly significant.

The DUP is likely to have a lengthy list of demands in return for its support for a Conservative government, including the outright rejection of any “special status” for Northern Ireland in the EU after Brexit. They are also quite likely to demand greater spend in Northern Ireland to help cement their position with their supporters. The DUP have the benefit of time being on their side in that Teresa May needs to get a move on to enable the Conservatives to get the Brexit talks underway with a mandate.

So while size may be important, power is only a reflection of how critical you are to the other side, and what options they have without you.

Right now the DUP have a seriously good hand.

Alan Smith


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Alan Smith

About the author:

Alan Smith
My background is marketing and advertising. After graduating in Economics I entered the agency world to become, at 28, MD of London's largest independent below-the-line marketing provider.

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Negotiators don’t necessarily derive their power from the relative size of their organisations. In fact, many negotiators fall into the trap of being scared by a seemingly “bigger” opponent on the other side and end up striking deals that belie their significance to the other side. As I have written before, these deals can be commercially ruinous. In fact, they derive their power from the incentives and sanctions that they have at their disposal. The problem that negotiators face when deploying their power, exerting their leverage as I once heard it described, is that some incentives seem relatively indivisible. They have one enormous “chunk” of a concession and then it’s over to threats and counter-threats – never a place where nice people like to be!

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