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Hierarchical Negotiation


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation Styles > Hierarchical Negotiation

Domestic hierarchy | Social hierarchy | Hierarchy at work | See also


Domestic hierarchy

Hierarchy starts at home, where the most fundamental hierarchy is that of parent-child.

Parent power

We grow up with the imbalance of parents in charge and children who, at least for some time, were seen and not heard. Parents have financial, resource and (at least for a while) a physical advantage. Even though we railed against it from time to time, it gave us a sense of security that harked back to very early childhood where we instinctively clung to our mothers for safety.

Our parents provide the dual key needs of a sense of control and a sense of identity from early in our lives. In exchange, they demand our respect and often obedience.

Even later in life, our parents have a unique sway over what we think and do. Depending on the family and culture, parents may be friendly advisors or harsh dictators. Matriarchs and patriarchs are a regular feature around the world.

Child power

When children argue and leave, parents suffer terribly. The children's bargaining chips, of compliance and relationship, are deployed even at an early age when they refuse to hug a parent who has upset them.

Asymmetrical negotiation

Domestic negotiation is affected by this hierarchy, with parents doing more telling and children doing more disobedience. This hierarchical relationship may thus seem imbalanced, but the exchange is simply different. Asymmetrical negotiation works when a balance can be found in which each has something the other wants and each has the power to change how the other feels. It is, in the end, the relationship on which domestic negotiations stand or fall.

Social hierarchy

The hierarchies that we learn at our parent's knees are often replicated subconsciously in social relationships. The fact is we like hierarchies, they make us feel comfortable and, as a result, they generally work simply because they are a mechanism that most people respect.

Building the hierarchy

When we meet with others, one of the first things we try to discover is whether they are superior or inferior to us. When we form groups and teams, one of the early negotiations is about who is going to be the leader and how the pecking order is going to work. Only when this 'storming' is complete will the team function effectively. If every command or request is debated, opposed or negotiated, then things will happen very slowly indeed.

When it's not a hierarchy

Social negotiation often works in a networked sense, in that to create any significant change you need to generate a groundswell of opinion. This means selling your ideas to many people, which typically requires a lot of time and energy. Much social power lies with opinion leaders to whom many other people will listen and accept new ideas. Social negotiation is more effective if you can reach these people and get them to spread your ideas further.

Hierarchy at work

In the workplace, a part of the contract of employment is that you will respect the chain of command, and that disobedience and even disrespect of a manager may be grounds for instant dismissal.

Boss power

Managers have the power vested in their position to tell their subordinates what to do. They allocate work to people and, possibly as a negotiating ploy, may offer more desirable work to those who play the game.

Managers also make decisions about pay and promotion. If they like you, then you can climb the hierarchy. If they do not, then your career may be seriously limited. This power can reach beyond the company as they may give bad references to people who leave under a cloud of some sort.

Managers generally can be less pleasant to their employees than their employees have to be to them. Of course there are rules and harassment is not allowed in many companies. Yet the manager can still make the life of their people more or less comfortable, and it is the implied threat of this that can have a significant effect on general motivation and in specific negotiations.

Worker power

Workers also have power. First, they have the power of expertise, of being able to do the job. They then have the power of their two feet: they are not captives and may leave at any time (although personal financial circumstances may make this difficult). Workers also have the power of the collective, and may negotiate not as individuals but in the form of industrial relations negotiations, as used by trade unions.

Another form of power that is often forgotten is how bosses are human and want to be liked. A part of the reason that people want promotion is so others will look up to them and hence support their identity needs. A little flattery goes a long way and being nice to your manager builds social capital that can be of significant weight in individual negotiations.

Individual negotiation

As opposed to industrial relations negotiations, individual negotiation at work can be asymmetrical in a similar way to parent-child negotiation. The manager may ask, though this is generally a face-saving way of telling. When a manager says 'Can you do this, please', they usually mean 'do this'.

Workers, on the other hand, need to think particularly carefully about how they will change the manager's mind, and may marshal evidence and otherwise employ more subtle techniques.

Managers may be concerned with leadership, which is less hierarchical as it implies optional followership. They may also be concerned with motivation of their people and so be careful about the demands that they make.

See also

Domestic negotiation, Industrial relations negotiations, Power

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