How to Be a Power Player in Negotiations

Prepare for a negotiation by understanding the power dynamics involved, and setting yourself up to be the power player.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #443

Today’s a big day! Bernice’s plant stores, Green Growing Things 1 and 2, have been going like gang-busters, the international 800-pound gorilla of the plant world, 1–800-GOT-GREEN.COM has approached her. They’re so impressed at her ability to keep her Audrey IIs from taking over the world, that they want to offer her a job. She’s going in today to talk to them. 

“Do you think they will make me a good offer? Perhaps they will let me come in at the director level!” Let you come in? Excuse me? Before she’s walked into the room, she’s already given away 90% of her negotiating power. We have to save this situation, and save it fast. We’ll use a framework I learned from management consultant Joe Yeager when I was just entering the business world.

Hierarchies Rule

This little framework is the Bees Knees. And bees have six joints on each leg, and six legs, so that’s a lot of knees. Plus they have Queen Bees. So when the Queen Bee holds court, there is a lot of kneeling. They have a very complicated social hierarchy that involves a lot of kneeling with different numbers of legs. When two bees meet, they kneel to each other and quickly know who’s higher and who’s lower on the food chain. I’m sure this is true, because it feels true.

You know what else feels true? I feel that humans evolved from bees, not primates. Why? Because we call each other “honey” and give each other flowers for romance. When we want to know what’s going on, we ask “What’s the buzz?” Do those sound like monkey things? Of course not. But bees … honey, flowers, buzz … well, that makes sense! Besides, look at the legs of the most beautiful people in the world, Milan runway models. Do their legs look more like the legs of a Great Ape, or the skinny, svelte legs of a bumblebee? I rest my case.

Know Your Place in the Hierarchy

Joe’s framework is simply, “one-up,” “one-down,” and “equals.” Because we evolved from bees, humans are hierarchical too. You have “high born” and “low born” people. “High” and “low” refer to the place in the hierarchy. When two people meet, they often unconsciously sound each other out to figure out who’s the alpha bee. The alpha bee, the one who is higher status, is “one-up.” The beta bee is “one-down,” lower status, and at the mercy of the alpha. 

What you’re after is the feeling of equals. Since it’s all in your mind anyway, you may as well prime your mind to feel powerful enough to hold your own in the negotiation. 

Those of us not born into wealth and privilege have been conditioned to think of ourselves as “one-down.” We’re the ones asking for a job. We’re the tiny peon petitioning the Great Pharaoh. We’re Oliver Twist, in search of gruel. Many people born into wealth or fame think of themselves as “one-up” and expect the one-downs of the world to do their bidding. There’s even a bunch of neuroscience showing that if you get wealth and power, it creates a “one-up” mindset that shuts off empathy and makes you into kind of a jerk, unless you explicitly keep it from happening. I hope someday to be faced with that challenge.

It’s All in Your Mind

Now that we don’t live in small communities where we know everyone, we establish hierarchy with each new person we meet, based on what we might happen to know about them in advance. Like, they have a job to offer.

Bernice is falling into one of the oldest traps in the book: she’s stepping right back into her accustomed role of job-seeker, where she’s one-down to the employer. This is all happening in her mind. She hasn’t even stepped into the room yet, so her first step is to step up her game, quite literally. And here, my friends, are the steps.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.