Negotiating from a Weak Position

By Ron Shapiro
Co-Founder and Chairman of Shapiro Negotiations Institute

Often participants in our programs voice the following frustration: “How can you possibly achieve a Win-Win result when you are in a weak position? When the other side holds all of the cards, isn’t it impossible to be an effective negotiator?” I believe the most effective negotiators are able to use their skills, both when they have the leverage, as well as when they don’t. In order to be more effective when you are in a weak position, I suggest the following:

Check Your Assumptions:
If you perceive yourself to be in a weak position the other side will too. Do yourself a favor and check your assumptions. Do you need to know the other side’s strengths? Very definitely! However, if you take the time to identify their weaknesses you may very well discover strengths in your own position of which you were previously unaware.

Something else to consider…make a list and talk it over with a friend. By discussing an itemized list of your personal strengths and weaknesses (and those of the other side) you will benefit from someone else’s objective input and avoid make incorrect assumptions about your own position.

Expand Your Alternatives:
O.K. What if you check you assumptions and you find out that you are, in fact, in a weak position? What do you do now? I suggest that you immediately look for other alternatives. Is the other side the only person in the world with the product or service that you want? Seldom is there ever a single source supplier for a particular item. It might be more convenient to buy from this person, or maybe the quality is better, but in the end, there are typically many alternatives to choose from, even when your alternatives look limited.

Again, I suggest you write down your possible alternatives before entering the negotiation. This valuable preparation will give you greater confidence to negotiate a fair deal. In the unlikely event that you do not have alternatives, consider finding a way to delay the negotiation until you are able to develop the necessary alternatives to negotiate with greater self-assurance.

Change the Subject:
So now you have found your assumptions to be correct and your alternatives limited. At this point, I suggest that you try to focus the negotiation on issues other than the one in which you find yourself the weakest. What else can be introduced into the negotiation that might provide you with a more beneficial situation?

For example, you might talk about benefits you provided to the other side in the past. You might discuss future opportunities that could exist. You even might inquire as to what else the other side is interested in beyond the deal at hand. Seldom does a transaction consist of only one component. Find out what other items can be brought into the negotiation and see if you can establish an upper hand with regard to these issues.

Find Those Similarly Situated:
If you find yourself in a weak position, there are likely others very similar to you. Seek out these people and see if the sum is greater than the individual parts. Consider class action suits, where an individual claimant is definitely in a weaker position when compared to a large company. But amass several thousand injured parties, and you discover the power of banding together. If you think someone else holds all of the cards, try to find out who else is sitting at the table with you and see if you can work together to achieve your goals.

You can only hope to always find yourself in the position of strength while sitting at the bargaining table. In those inevitable situations where you find yourself in the unenviable weak position implement the exercises outlined above and you will be more effective in the most challenging negotiation situations.

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