The Use of Power in Negotiations (Part II of III)

In the previous article of this series we discussed Parity In Power. In this edition, we will explore the two kinds of Interpersonal Power. Legitimate power and Reward power.

In the previous edition of The Winner's Circle, we discussed Parity in Power, (Parity in Power Part I of III) and positioned the five different kinds of Interpersonal Power that are at play. We examined Legitimate Power in more detail. In this edition, we will be continuing the article by further exploring the following two kinds of Interpersonal Power. Finally, we will complete this article in the next edition by examining Expert Power and Referent Power in more detail.

  • Legitimate power
  • Reward power
  • Coercive power
  • Expert power
  • Referent power

Reward power

Power can be derived from the ability to reward compliance. Reward power is used to back up legitimate power. If rewards or potential rewards such as recognition, a good job assignment, a pay rise, or additional resources to complete a job are promised, the employee may reciprocate by responding to orders, requests and directions, according to Gibson et al.(1991:331).

Rewards are often monetary but can also be intangible. Research has shown that verbal approval, encouragement and praise are frequently good substitutes for tangible rewards. Experiments on the use of positive reinforcement and behaviour modification in the classroom or work setting have shown that verbal rewards could take the form of: " extreme politeness, " compliments, and " praise for past behaviour.

Non-verbal rewards could take the form of: " Giving individuals in the other party more space at the table: " Nodding of the head to indicate approval and acceptance: " Eye contact to indicate attention: and " Open and non-aggressive gestures to indicate acceptance and respect.

Rewards could also take the form of verbal promises of financial benefits to be gained by establishing a relationship.


Ingratiation is sometimes called the art of flattery, and is an example of the use of reward power in social settings. Friedman, Carlsmith and Sears (1974) provide interesting overviews on the impact of ingratiation in interpersonal situations. Most of us know that if other people like us, they will be more willing to do us favours or carry out actions we request that if they dislike us. " Individuals seeking to increase others' liking of them can convince these persons that they share basic values or are similar in other ways. " The most common tactic of ingratiation in negotiation involves the communication of high personal regard to the intended targets of influence. This tactic, usually known as "other enhancement": often takes the form of flattery - exaggerated praise of others. And often, it succeeds: praising others does increase their liking of the flatterer.

In general, the use of reward power seems to be very effective, especially in the longer term. Reward power is sometimes used together with coercive power and these two can be subject to semantic confusion. It is important to describe coercive power before comparing it with and evaluating it against reward power.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is the opposite of reward power. It is the ability of the power holder to take something away from the target person or to punish the target for non-compliance with a request.

For example:

Coercive power could be the threat to strike from a labour union: the threat of blocking promotion or transfer of a subordinate for poor performance: it could be the threat to go to court: it could be at threat of non-payment: it could be the threat to go public: and it could even be a threat of bodily harm.

All of these practices have an important element of fear. The fear that these threats will be used is called coercive power.

It is often pointed out that victims can be left in the wake of the use of coercive power. This is probably why the use of coercive power could be effective but is often short lived in its effect, with a long process of rebuttal later on. The price of integrative negotiation seems to be paid before the actual agreement is reached, while the price of war is often paid afterwards (and in many cases, for centuries after the war has taken place).


During the years 1933 to 1945, millions of innocent people were killed in Nazi Germany's gas chambers. The deaths of these people were engineered by a single person who, through a series of commands (combining authority with fear), gave orders to have the grim deeds carried out. The fabric that binds command to action is obedience. According to psychologist Stanley Milgram (1963) obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual actions to political purpose. It is the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Because people tend to obey orders, history has witnessed many atrocities. Some historians suggest that during the course of history more hideous crimes have resulted from obedience to authority than from any type of rebellion.

The problem of obedience to authority is age old and has been recognised for thousands of years. This is one of the reasons why people with authority can be extremely effective in negotiations with subordinates.

Comparing reward power and coercive power

Although coercive power sometimes results in amazing short-term effects, it would seem fairly clear that reward power is, according to Lewicki et al (1985:247), far more likely to produce desired consequences, with less close observation and control than coercive power.

Yet, efforts at coercion are a common occurrence in negotiation. When simple persuasion fails, when tempers flare, when self-esteem is threatened, or when the vision of material gain overshadows the understanding of the potential cost of its use, the efforts at coercion through threats and hostile language are likely to increase. It is at these times that the emotional expression of anger or feelings of frustration and impotence may overwhelm the rational understanding of the effectiveness of reward strategies.

[ Part I ] [ Part II ] [ Part III ]

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