Business Negotiation May 20, 2016

Perceptual Power

I recently celebrated another birthday and one of the comic cards I received illustrates a great negotiation lesson. Picture a small goldfish swimming in the fish tank...

I recently celebrated another birthday and one of the comic cards I received illustrates a great negotiation lesson. Picture a small goldfish swimming in the fish tank. Strapped to the goldfish is a shark's fin, which protrudes out of the tank several inches.

Now, how much power does this little goldfish have? If the other occupants of the tank accept that fin as real, has the goldfish grown real power or perceptual power?

How much value is there in perceptual power? It is easy to dismiss perceptual power as bluff or fake, but you might be interested in some other's thoughts:

  • Re Jesse Helms: "…he plugs into no important levers, controls no important network, has relatively scant rewards to offer and penalties to impose on his own." "…such power as he has is strictly a function of their own willingness to let him push them around." Meg Greenfield, Newsweek, August 1, 1997

  • The idea of power lies in the mind of those involved in the bargaining. J. Winkler

  • (Power) It is relative to the assumed power of the other party. J. Winkler

  • Their power exists if you accept their power. Karrass

  • In an Article titled, "Cheney: Not What He Used to be" in THE WEEK magazine, November 11, 2005, re Cheney losing power in W.DC, "…in a city where power is the appearance of power."


Too many people quit in the planning stage of a negotiation because, "I don't have anything to work with." They move quickly into damage control and away from finding the best agreement for both parties. The RESULT BECOME self-fulfilling. We can't afford to respond soley to our evaluation of our real power and our estimate of the other party's power.
From now on, think about how to grow the perception of our power and test our estimates of the other party's power.
Jim Sauerwein
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