The spice of negotiation: Adding flavor to your parley

“You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money, you won’t have many deals.” (J. Paul Getty)

From a market on the busy streets of Istanbul to the dry, airconditioned atmosphere of a conference room in Osaka, negotiations are an inseparable component of human interaction. Depending on the ingredients of our negotiation recipe, the outcome could be lucrative for both sides, strongly favor one side, or simply leave every party involved with a bitter taste in their mouth. Common sense would expect those with a power advantage to fully utilize their advantage in their favor, but more often than not, the opposite phenomenon is witnessed: Instead of taking advantage of the other party, powerful individuals (e.g., leaders) seem to perceive their power as a responsibility (Fousiani & Wisse, 2022) to uphold towards the less privileged side of the negotiation table (Fousiani et al., 2022).

Negotiation success for the powerless

Ever found yourself facing an uphill battle during negotiations? We have all been here, trying to negotiate while feeling hopelessly disadvantaged. But research shows that powerless individuals within negotiations can still come out on top by identifying areas for compromise (Galinsky et al., 2008). The secret lies in their ability to pick up on subtle signals and cues from others or the environment and handling them creatively. However, there are situations where the spice cabinet is all out of power and your creative well has run dry. This might be the most explosive combination of the scenarios we might stumble upon. It can be helpful to consider what might happen when someone feels backed into a corner with no way out. It is not uncommon for people to react defensively, even demonstrating aggressive behavior. Thus, it seems that out-of-the-box thinking, and creativity are the only resort when aiming to improve one’s position. Without this essential resource, powerless negotiators can only use forcing to defend themselves (Fousiani et al., 2022).

In contrast, empirical research suggests that powerful negotiators tend to be more internally focused, relying on dispositional cues, their own value and belief system to guide their behavior rather than on environmental signals(Galinsky et al., 2008). This allows us to conclude that environmental cues and subtle signals from the other party will mostly be used by powerless individuals, rather than their powerful counterparts, with the latter being in most cases the ones determining the negotiation outcome.


When given the opportunity to think creatively and as they grow older, powerful individuals become more collaborative than powerless ones


Yet, if we shift our focus away from contextual factors (e.g., opportunity to think creatively) and instead look at the characteristics of the actors involved in a negotiation, we may gain further insight into how they might pave the way towards a specific outcome. Observing older people, we commonly see a recurring theme, namely the network of people they choose to meaningfully engage with, becomes increasingly smaller as they age. The reason for that, according to the socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen, 1991), is merely their perception of their remaining lifetime as rather limited. Instead of spending time on meaningless conversations older individuals often focus their energy towards communal goals and building deeper connections with a select group of people. Evidence shows that older individuals tend to be more collaborative, prioritizing the common good and building upon their counterpart’s ideas to achieve the most fruitful outcome, even when they occupy positions of power. Notably, age can reverse the effect of power on collaborative behavior (Li & Tsang, 2016). When given the opportunity to think creatively and as they grow older, powerful individuals become more collaborative than powerless ones (Fousiani et al., 2022).

Building upon the insights gained from the previous paragraphs, we can draw an important lesson regarding reaching optimal outcomes during negotiations. First and foremost, powerful individuals tend to remain rather undisturbed by contextual elements, instead focusing on their disposition to guide their behavior in negotiations. This places powerless individuals in thrall to their powerful counterparts, having to tune in to contextual factors that might shift the outcome in their favor. Perhaps as a powerless individual, you find yourself having to negotiate with an older powerful counterpart. In that case, these individuals, are likely to be more accommodating and collaborative when given the opportunity to think creatively. In the event that you are holding the reins of the negotiation, remember that if your counterpart seems unable to see the bigger picture and keeps applying pressure, perhaps this stems from their feeling of losing every form of control over the situation. In this case, you could consider taking the initiative to offer your help and work collaboratively towards a mutually beneficial outcome. Collaboration may not always maximize the results of powerful individuals, but the literature suggests that the benefits of building positive relationships and goodwill can pay off in the long run.



Carstensen, L. L. (1991). Selectivity Theory: Social activity in life-span context. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 11(1), 195–217.

Fousiani, K., De Jonge, K. M. M., & Michelakis, G. (2022). Having no negotiation power does not matter as long as you can think creatively: The moderating role of age. International Journal of Conflict Management, 33(5), 956–990.

Fousiani, K., & Wisse, B. (2022). Effects of leaders’ power construal on leader-member exchange: The moderating role of competitive climate at work. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15480518221075228.

Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Gruenfeld, D. H., Whitson, J. A., & Liljenquist, K. A. (2008). Power reduces the press of the situation: Implications for creativity, conformity, and dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1450–1466.

Li, T., & Tsang, V. H.-L. (2016). Age differences in the understanding of wealth and power: The mediating role of future time perspective. European Journal of Ageing, 13(4), 349–360.


Image credit: photo by Alexas_Fotos (used with content license from Pixabay)

Giorgos is a PhD student in Sociology. Once upon a time, he set sail from a small island in the Mediterranean to the far north of the Netherlands, but not before completing a degree in Journalism and fulfilling his military service. It has always been the drivers of individual behavior that fascinated him, both on a conflict resolution but also on the sustainability front. Recently he found his safe haven among colleagues studying the effects of diversity on value creation during times of crisis within organizations.

You may also like

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.