48 Laws of Power: Thunderbird Prof Writes New Laws for Negotiators

Last Updated Mar 23, 2010 7:29 PM EDT

Robert Greene's bestseller The 48 Laws of Power contains Machiavellian instructions for taking down opponents such as "Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit" and "Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim." Thunderbird School of Global Management professor Karen Walch presents a slightly different take on these cutthroat tactics in her on-going blog series "48 Laws of Power for 21st Century Global Negotiators."

In the series introduction she writes, "Greene's book is a fun read and brilliant satire, but it provides little practical utility for global negotiators in the 21st century.... In situations where social, political and economic problems are the result of complex relationships that only can be solved by understanding the other side, negotiators must apply a different set of rules to produce more sustainable, prosperous and satisfying agreements."

Walch posts a new rule each week and has currently made it to Law 25, Train Mental Tactics. I spoke with her recently about the blog, power and how to be a better negotiator.
BNET: How did you decide to start the 48 Laws of Power blog?

Walch: I have for many years in my various classes done a lot of work on the shifting nature of power in the global context and the cultural context. Because I'm very busy teaching, this was the best way to get some writing done. I made a deal with myself that I would get something written once a week. A blog is such a great way to get started.

BNET: Two part question: Why do you think books like The 48 Laws of Power and Machiavelli's The Prince continue to interest people, and why don't the tactics they advocate work in many 21st century situations?
Walch: Themes of power and having control in our lives are fundamental human concepts and will always exist. Where I see that the Machiavellian coercive strategy doesn't work very well is only in situations where the negotiation is complex, where people need each other. Where the relationship as well as the substance is critical. Therefore, the Machiavellian winner-takes-all approach destroying the will or the spirit of the other doesn't work in situations where we need to develop relationships. When the relationship doesn't matter, then using the Machiavellian approach is the way to go.

BNET: What's an example of a situation where a Machiavellian approach won't work?

Walch: In an employee situation, even though the manager has all of the structural power and could use a coercive or manipulative approach with an employee in a negotiation, many employees are very smart, they have their own ideas and their own sense of fairness. They could undermine the agreement if the manager just focused on not caring about the relationship at all. Working to enhance the sense of fairness in a negotiation with employees is important. Managers would have more power and influence if they actually helped the other person solve their problems as well.

Also in buyer and seller situations, if you never plan to see that buyer again, then winner takes all, claiming all of the value for yourself, might be the way to go. But I hear more and more people say that they never thought they'd see that buyer again, but then they came back and worked with them again. So they damaged a potentially good working relationship by using very Machiavellian approaches.

Next week, Walch will share some key rules for negotiations and talk about the challenges of global negotiations.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.