Who has the power?

I recently decided to start a non-fiction book club. The plan came out of a love of reading and sharing what I’ve been reading, as well as wanting to make some new friends this year. So I sent a bunch of invitations (c/o Paperless Post, my new favourite find!) to clever, interesting people I knew and almost all of them immediately signed up. Seems I may have hit a nerve.

This first month I chose Friend & Foe to get us started. The underlying idea is simply that humans are wired to collaborate and compete, and these tendencies aren’t mutually exclusive. The book had been recommended by Daniel Pink in his excellent newsletter, but had sat on my Evernote ‘Check It Out’ list for some time. This was the perfect opportunity!

It wasn’t quite as amazing as I had hoped (especially as I had recommended it to the whole book club!), but it did have some really interesting research and case studies on power dynamics and negotiating tactics. Here’s what got me thinking…


Many of you will know about power posture from Amy Cuddy’s awesome TED talk, and the book goes on to elaborate this idea of ‘fake it til you feel it’. According to their research, recalling an experience with power (and writing about it), taking on a powerful posture, or listening to powerful music can all increase your sense of power. They key is finding the one that works for you.

There was also an interesting discussion on gender differences (having worked for a feminist organisation for over four years, I’m always interested in this discussion!). We often talk about how men are simply more likely to negotiate for a better pay or a better deal, but the authors’ research shows that by priming men and women with power, everyone behaved the way we think men do. Power affects women the same way it affects men, but because women have less power in society and face prescriptive stereotypes that discourage assertiveness, women have less latitude to act with power. Some of you may remember some of Lean In’s research that, for the same behaviours, men are characterised as confidence, but women are arrogant; men ‘take charge’, but women are ‘bossy’.

Anyway, I digress…

Having always thought I wasn’t, I’ve recently decided that I actually am a bit of a people pleaser. Call that the British in me, but I’d always much rather calm down a situation than fire one up just so I can make my point. This was taught to me simply as ‘being polite’, but I do wonder if it sometimes let me down…

However, the authors say that people who inspire the most trust in others are those who exhibit both of two distinct traits: warmth and competence. This certainly got me thinking: what do I emanate to the people around me? Something to keep in mind.


I haven’t had to do a great deal of negotiating in my life, but friends – knowing I am, professionally, a communicator – often ask what the best tactics are, and I think this book has helped me come up with an answer:

The best [negotiating] questions to ask are open-ended ones that involve negative assumptions: ‘what problems does the car have?’

This is partly because it forces someone to either quickly lie, or simply answer the question. Avoiding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions is always a good thumb whenever you have a conversation with someone, but it seems especially so in negotiating scenarios.

The authors’ research also concludes that it is actually better to go first in making an offer, something the authors know is going to be controversial. But this is why: When we make the first offer, we anchor the negotiation in our favour; we set up an understanding of what sort of money we’re interested in talking about. Asking questions such as ‘what are you using this for?' will help you get to a better understanding of how your counterpart values the item up for negotiation. A well-informed negotiator does better by going first.

If you do not have the information you need to make an insightful first offer, research says it’s better to wait. After we make a first offer, we can only go in one direction, down from our first offer.

Can you think of times you have had to appear both collaborative and competitive? How did you handle the situation? Also, what have you been reading lately? We’d love some suggestions!