Can’t Anyone Fix this Blasted Machine? The Power of Knowledge

Clyde had a problem. The problem’s name was Marko and Clyde attended one of my “dealing with difficult people” workshops seeking ways to deal with Marko. Throughout the workshop, Clyde used Marko as an example and asked “what do you do when someone doesn’t follow basic maintenance protocols?” We applied some of the basic principals to Clyde’s situation: How clearly have the expectations been articulated? What root need of Marko’s lay beneath the resistance? We learned that the expectations and protocols (regarding maintenance of a valuable piece of equipment) were clearly articulated and that there appeared to be no obvious source of resistance. After dancing around the issue off and on for the better part of the workshop, one participant finally asked Clyde what many of us had been thinking: why don’t you just fire Marko if he doesn’t toe the line? After all, Clyde seemed to have the power in the situation: he controlled the resources (money), he owned the company (positional power), and had taken the necessary steps to justify termination (legal authority). Clyde fidgeted for a minute, then sheepishly admitted “Marko is the only person in the province who knows how to fix the equipment”? In that moment and with that disclosure, the power balance shifted:  based on results, Clyde needed Marko’s ability to repair the equipment more than he needed Marko to follow the maintenance protocols.

In my previous blogs, I discussed power as “the ability to influence change” or “the ability to meet one’s needs and further one’s goals” (Bernie Mayer in The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution). Bernie (and others who have explored the concept of power and conflict) emphasizes that there are many sources of power. Here’s an example of one. many sources of power. All sources of power can be boiled down to the ability to support/reward or to thwart/punish. In this case, the Marko’s knowledge enabled Clyde to maintain production and make a profit.

This example also demonstrates how we can increase our power by developing options. Fisher and Ury, in Getting to Yes, coined the term “BATNA” as a way to assess our power in a negotiation. The acronym stands for “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”. In other words, what is your Plan B if the other side refuses to negotiate or plays hardball? How can you best get your needs met without their cooperation? In Clyde’s case, he could create strengthen his negotiating position by training or otherwise securing the services of another repairman, learning how to fix the machine himself, or purchasing a different machine.

With choice comes power. If you feel powerless in a negotiation, look to create options.

About Gary Harper, The Joy of Conflict Resolution

Gary Harper is the principal of Harper and Associates. He is a trainer, writer and facilitator who specializes in conflict resolution. Through his unique blend of experience as a personal injury lawyer, general manager, insurance regulator and retail store owner, he learned the value of clear communication and conflict resolution skills. Since 1991 he has trained and mediated in a wide variety of organizations - from health care to the film industry to many levels of government. He is a member of the instructional team of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of B. C. and recently authored The Joy of Conflict Resolution: Transforming Victims, Villains and Heroes in the Workplace and at Home.
This entry was posted in power in negotiation. Bookmark the permalink.