Soft power in business. Why is it always better than tough negotiations?

Soft power in business. Why is it always better than tough negotiations?

23 May 2022

We are all familiar with hard power. For the first time we encounter it in childhood, when, for example, a parent takes away a favorite toy from a child in order to force her to do homework or run an errand.

At its core, hard power is pressure, a way to get your own way through coercion, leaving another person no other way out. Previously, it was only through hard power that business survived — take, for example, John Rockefeller at the head of Standard Oil, when he destroyed his competitors not only with through price dumping, but also by blocking their access to rail transportation. However, in the modern world — in the world of diversity, freedom and opportunities — coercion is no longer relevant. Soft power comes to the fore.

Recently I have become the President of the international organization Women’s Empowerment Council, which is engaged in creating equal opportunities for women in business, and I started thinking again about what this soft power is and how to apply it in practice. After all, at its core, soft power comes more naturally to women, while men often have to learn to master it for years. Thanks to soft power, we women achieve such fantastic results in business. But what is the reason for its enormous influence? And why is it the main key to the development and success of any company in today’s market? I’ll tell you everything about what soft power is, and how to use it!

Soft power vs hard power

So, what is soft power? If hard power is giving commands, influencing people’s behavior through coercion (even under the guise of “rewards”, since we are not always talking about direct sanctions), then soft power is involvement. Motivating others to act the way you need them to act, with the help of your own attractiveness or the attractiveness of your values. Thus, hard power is pushing in the right direction, while soft power is pulling towards your direction.

The American political scientist Joseph Nye is considered to be the founder of the very concept of hard and soft power. His key idea is this: most of the important global problems faced by states cannot be solved by military intervention or pressure — they can only be solved by persuading people to share your views and values voluntarily. Aren’t all businessmen in the same situation today, when the entire market is on the consumer’s leash?

A vivid example of the triumph of soft power in the modern world is the well-known Apple company, whose founder, Steve Jobs, I will never stop admiring. For your information, Apple controls only 2%-3% of the global computer market. Incredible, isn’t it? After all, despite this, their product has become a legend. And all thanks to the ingenious solution of Steve Jobs — the iPod. Instead of suppressing his competitors with economic measures, like Rockefeller did, for example, Steve Jobs decided to conquer the market with a brilliant and advanced solution. That is, he decided to pull in the audience, instead of pushing out his competitors. This is soft power at work.

Simply put, soft power does not use money or status, but the attractiveness of an idea, brand or the creator themself. Due to the fact that it is much more effective and easier than pushing through one’s agenda and interests with indirect sanctions, the concept of soft power is used absolutely everywhere today: in personal life, in politics, in management, and in negotiations. I want to talk about the latter separately, because negotiations are the most important part of business development.

How to use soft power in negotiations

 A soft style of conducting business negotiations is, in my opinion, the only strategy that allows you not only to achieve your goals, but also to strengthen your relationship with your partner. The “soft negotiator” does not just make concessions, as is commonly thought, but strives for a mutually beneficial compromise, taking into account the wishes and interests of the partner. That is why soft negotiations are better when you are set up for long—term cooperation, while hard negotiations are better suited for obtaining instant benefits.

However, keep in mind that if you want to use soft power in negotiations, first you must fulfill its three pre-conditions:

  • Recognition. The more well-known your company, the advantages of working with it, its resources and leadership are, the greater your soft power is.
  • Reputation. The company should be attractive in terms of values, serve as a role model in the market, have a positive reputation and a strong brand.
  • Influence. Your company should have a significant impact on the market at least in a certain region or within a certain segment of the audience that is important to your potential partners.

Also, before using soft power in negotiations, I advise you to pay attention to the “market weight” of your partner. Soft negotiations are relevant when your partner has a status and influence less than yours or approximately equal to yours. In the event that your potential partner is much superior to you (for example, in terms of company size or profit), you will have to use elements of hard negotiations, otherwise you will simply be “crushed”. Equally important is the partner’s willingness to conduct soft negotiations with you in response. After all, if you use soft power, and your partner uses hard power, then with 80% probability he will not care about your interests and will refuse to compromise in favor of his own benefit. However, you can try to gently guide your negotiations into a completely soft format, but for this you should have more weight than your partner.

“Soft” tips from Mila Semeshkina

So, if you want to take maximum advantage of your soft power in business, I have some tips for you, developed through my own personal experience:

  1. Take on a leading role. You should act as a kind of “dispatcher” at all meetings and events. You must promote the agenda you need and follow a pre-drawn “map”, without allowing your partner to lead you away. After all, soft power does not mean either weakness, or permission to manipulate you and transfer responsibility for negotiations to someone else. You must clearly follow the plan, allocate the amount of time to solve each issue, set priorities and clearly demonstrate them to your partner.
  2. Use verbal cues to control the flow of the meeting. For a soft negotiator or leader, it is extremely important to be able to win over a potential partner and present your position competently. The following “soft” phrases and words will help you with this.
  • “I agree with you on this and that, but I would suggest you…”
  • “I would like to add that…”
  • “I think there is a more profitable alternative we can conside, which is…”
  • “Let me draw your attention to a couple of things” (this phrase is most useful when a meeting or negotiations “go off the rails” and they urgently need to be brought back).
  1. Improve your emotional intelligence and master neuro-linguistic programming

Perhaps you yourself have noticed that the “soft” phrases above are tied precisely to emotional intelligence. As, indeed, all soft power. After all, it may be made up of reputation and your attractiveness, but your personal skills, especially EI, are needed for its competent use. NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) also won’t hurt. With its help, you can defeat even a hard negotiator or a partner with a more substantial business weight. For example, NLP teaches mirroring — this is when you repeat gestures, facial expressions and even the words of your interlocutor as naturally as possible, which automatically wins your interlocutor over and makes you more likable in their eyes. We have a whole course dedicated to these techniques on the Lectera platform, one of the most beloved by our users — “NLP in sales. Powerful psychological techniques.”

Today, soft power is the most profitable and optimal type of behavior for business and negotiators. Hard power is not only inferior to soft power in all regards, but has long been obsolete morally — what prospects and development can a company expect, if it is still acting according to the logic of “carrot and stick”? Both buyers and even hiring specialists are more willing to choose a company that knows how to negotiate, offer innovative solutions and involve you with the help of their values. That’s why soft power leads the way not only in business, but also in the future of the humanity!

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