How can my representatives negotiate more effectively despite being on the weaker side most of the time?- Gerard of Makati City
There will be times when your company representative will be negotiating from a position of strength as there will be times they will come from a position of weakness.  If your side is the less fortunate one, negotiating from weakness will be the norm rather than the exception.  Observably, there are more weak parties by natural occurrence as they compete with a few companies with more to offer.  This predictably shifts the power to the latter by virtue of being the scarcer side and therefore more pursued.  Beyond this, there are other reasons for power imbalance such as information advantage, unique competitive advantage, legalities, existence of alternative choices among others. Hence, learning or better yet, mastering negotiating from weakness is not only essential but critical to ensure that important business deals are secured profitably yet nevertheless satisfying to your counterpart.

Power Principles

What comes in the way of a fair outcome is the imbalanced distribution of power that leads to the undue advantage of one party over the other.  Is it possible to neutralize the imbalance? If so how? In line with power equalization intent, is one of the four major principles of power, as detailed in my seminar on ‘Effective Negotiation and Influencing Skills’. This principle states that “the weak party who knows how to avoid the direct impact of power, renders the powerful party less potent”.  What this means is that the weaker party needs to find a way to deflect the full impact of power. Tactically this translates to employing selected elements of ‘D.E.F.E.N.S.E.S’and countering gambits the stronger party may use against it. Tactical D.E.F.E.N.S.E.S and Countering Gambits

‘D.E.F.E.N.S.E.S’ details multiple options open to a weaker party. To fit within the limited space of this article, let us focus on a couple of tactical options only: ‘D’ and ‘E’. The first one, ‘D’ stands for “Divide and Conquer’.  This tactical defensive option means you need to activate your ‘allies’ within your counterpart’s organization or even key external influencers so they can trump the ‘enemy’ proponents who wield power and have intentions of using these against you and your proposition in the attempt to extract precious concessions from your side.  ‘E’ stands for ‘Encourage Cooperation’.  The big ‘machine gun’ of your powerful counterpart shall count for nothing even against your ‘diminutive switch blade’ if cooperation will be the predominant atmosphere. Why? Well, because weapons are deemed unnecessary during cooperative negotiations. 

By controlling the ‘Nego-sphere’ to become skewed towards cooperation instead of conflict, the impact of power is deflected as stated in the aforementioned principle.  What exacerbates and complicates the situation though is when the more powerful party employs negotiation gambits, particularly the bullying-type. A classic example is the use of the ‘take it or leave it’ ploy, obviously unfair as it drives the weaker party to choose from only one offered choice or to risk a deadlock. An unskilled negotiator will be intimidated to fall for this elementary trap but a skilled one will be able to handle this well, and quite unsurprisingly the optimal response is not ‘to take nor to leave it’ but instead, to pursue a series of actions completely outside of these options.  Another bullying tactic is to threaten the weaker party of giving the business to someone else. Other gambits involve psychological warfare, rushing the final offer, among others.

Fortunately, each of these tricks has effective antidotes which are indispensable to a negotiator if they will be able to close optimized deals.  The good news is that all these can be learned.  It seems then that knowledge and skills in negotiating from a point of weakness is an essential requirement for company representatives whether they are tasked to sell, buy or collaborate with other parties, so that they can be able to protect their side competently.

Rowen Untivero is a Partner and Chief Sales Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (www.mansmith.net), the leading marketing and sales training and consultancy company in the Philippines.  He is the developer/training master of three Negotiation Programs: Tactical, Strategic and the Language of Negotiation, where related framework, processes, strategies and tools can exclusively be learned. For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.net, cal (+63-2) 584-5858 / 412-0034 or text 0918-81-168-88.  Please also send your marketing, sales, and strategy questions, comments or feedback to mentors@mansmith.net.