Watching university students role play salary package negotiations is fascinating. Without question the student who acts as the manager negotiates from the perspective that they have the power in the negotiation. The student acting as the prospective employee, who is trying to negotiate the best possible outcome for themself also adopts the perspective that the ‘manager’ has the power.
Several minutes in to the role plays I interrupt and tell the ‘manager’ that their CEO has a memo for them. The memo informs them that, due to the war for talent, they must do everything they can to secure the services of the prospective employee while maintaining responsibility for their budget.
The negotiations continue with a changed dynamic. The power has shifted. No longer does the ‘manager’ see that they have control. While having adopted an initial distributive bargaining strategy, they quickly shift to an integrative bargaining strategy. Even their body language changes. As I said this is fascinating to watch.
What is also fascinating is that the students involved are yet to begin their professional careers. Many of them have part-time jobs and/or volunteer roles and the majority of them have never had a manager’s role. Yet they follow this pattern of behaviour.
The role play is conducted as part of a Communication For Business program. In it I teach the students about the power of their mental models; their theories about how they believe the world works and how these theories directly affect their behaviour. Their perception of having or not having power affects the mental models they adopt in the role play which in turn affects their behaviour. As soon as the power is ‘shifted’ by the memo, they adopt a different mental model and their behaviour changes.
I have conducted this activity over a seven-year period and the observed behaviours have been consistent over this period of time. The perception of power has a direct implication for behaviour. This is not right or wrong. The challenge is that your mental models often act at a sub-conscious level rather than a conscious level. Either way they will affect your behaviour.
Reflecting on the activity students report that they were aware of the position they were taking in the negotiation but not aware of the deep mental models that were ‘driving’ their behaviour. Their view of the power they had or didn’t have had a direct impact on their behaviour.
What lesson does this activity surface for leaders and developing leaders alike?
Let’s assume that you value talent. If you are not aware of the influence that power has on your subconscious mental models and ultimately your behaviour, you are unlikely to treat the talented individuals you are working with as talented people. You will treat them as people who have less power than you. You will not be equals who have different roles.
Raising your awareness of your mental models is a key element for success. What is your experience of mental models and how they drive your behaviour?