Negotiating with Someone More Powerful than You


Famed political scientist Harold Lasswell once described power as the ability to decide “who gets what, when and how.”

Such a definition suggests there will always be someone more powerful than you. It could be your boss, or investors, or someone you want to do business with. There will always be someone who has something you want, and you must negotiate with them to get it.

So, when it comes to negotiations, you need to work out where YOU are situated on that power spectrum. For those of you who are lamenting that you are at the bottom end of it, fear not. There are many ways you can negotiate while still achieving your goals and keeping the relationship cordial between you and the other party.

Firstly, you need to delve into your psychology. While the person you’re negotiating with may be more powerful than you, if they have something you want, it doesn’t make them superior. It also doesn’t make them smarter, or their time more valuable than yours, or mean that they are more deserving of being heard.

This is where self-limiting beliefs can come into play.

Self-limiting beliefs are assumptions or perceptions that you’ve got about yourself and about the way the world works. They are “self-limiting” because they’re holding you back from achieving what you are capable of.

If you grew up in a neglectful environment, you may be more likely to have toxic beliefs about yourself.

But note that even if you grew up in a loving home, you can still end up with self-limiting beliefs. For example, parents who jump in to defend you from every enemy can leave you with the belief that you’re not capable of resolving your own problems. So, if you have this mindset going into negotiation against someone you believe to be more powerful than you, you are already setting yourself up for failure.

The way to get off this train of negativity is by not going into the negotiation with an adversarial mindset. If you let go of self-limiting beliefs, you will see yourself as your counterparts’ equal, then you can look at how to solve the problem together.

Let’s now look at ways you can take your negotiation forward and win when going up against someone or some business that is more powerful than you.

Five Tactics You Can Use to Negotiate With Someone More Powerful Than You

  1.   Control the Conversation by Using Framing

Framing is a technique that relates to how the way you describe your offer strongly affects how others view it. Framing is also how you can create a conversation around a specific point of the problem.

Did you know people tend to resist compromises — and to declare impasse — when these compromises are framed as losses rather than gains?

Here is an example: Suppose a company offers you, as a recruit, a $20,000 increase over your current salary of $100,000.

Now, if the offer is presented to you in that fashion, rather than as a $30,000 decrease from your request of a $150,000 salary, it seems much more appealing. Here, the company is focusing on presenting the advantage rather than the disadvantage. The salary increase is a gain. The fact it is less that you asked for, is a loss. This is how framing can change the way your negotiation is heard by the other party. Stressing what the other party would gain rather than lose can be an important use of framing in negotiation.

Another use of framing is using the “yes and yes” response. For example, you might be negotiating over a start date for changes to be made within a company. You say, “Do you want to start implementing these changes at the end of the quarter, or do you want to do it at the end of the month? Your choice.”

Those two last words are much more emphatic and certain than, “What do you think?”

  2.   Give and Give Again

When it comes to negotiation, it’s simply not the done thing to give things away. However, if you offer expertise and solutions, you will be seen as someone who is genuinely there to help. This does not mean give away what you are there to negotiate. Rather, it’s all about leverage.

Let’s look at the example of a vitamin water brand that is giving away free bottles of water — but when you are given one, you are asked to fill out a survey.

Compare this to being asked to “spare some change.” Which option are you more receptive to? They’re both pitching for your attention. And it would be less time consuming to hand over some change. The difference is you are getting something back in return for completing the survey. Being willing to give makes a difference in a power negotiation dynamic.

  3.   Be Firm and Use Gentle Strength

In my program Feminine Art of Negotiation, I discuss being assertive when it comes to negotiation. However, I also stress that you need to do this without resorting to aggression. This is where you can use gentle strength, which is when you know what your bottom line is and stand firm on it without being adversarial or abrasive.

This dovetails nicely into the importance of knowing your B.A.T.N.A (i.e., your best alternative to a negotiated agreement). For example, if you saw a pair of shoes you loved in one shop, you would go and check them out in another store to compare the price. However, you are also taking into consideration every other factor included in those prices. The cost to get to the store, are the shoes available immediately, are they in the color you want? This all plays into your B.A.T.N.A. What is the best alternative outcome for your purchase? I talk about this in my programs, and also in my blog post titled Know Your B.A.T.N.A. Before Bargaining.

  4.   Allow Yourself to be Underestimated — And Leverage It

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants how a lowly shepherd boy defeated the biblical giant.

Their story is told in the Old Testament. Powerful warrior Goliath was said to stand more than 7ft tall. David was a small, skinny boy with no experience in battle. Their respective armies, to decide the victor and avoid widespread bloodshed, pitted the two against each other.

On first glance, you would cast Goliath as the victor, with his ginormous physique and heavy armor. However, what is not mentioned is that research has suggested it’s likely the giant was suffering from the hormonal disorder acromegaly, a condition associated with gigantism that also affects vision and can cause the afflicted person to see double. Plus, Goliath was expecting to face down someone like him in expertise and fighting strength.

What the giant perceived as weaknesses were ultimately David’s strengths. Nimble on his feet and with no heavy armor, he was well practiced at taking down lions with his slingshot. He was able to run at Goliath and was right under the giant’s nose when he took him down, with a stone hitting his forehead at what was estimated as the same force as a bullet. Goliath didn’t stand a chance. David was able to leverage what was perceived as weaknesses and use them to his advantage. They became his strengths that allowed him to win.

It can be intimidating to approach the negotiating table when you think you’re coming in as the weaker force. But by following these steps, you turn your vulnerability into a position of power.

Here’s an example: You have created a startup company that provides a communication system between organic farmers around the world to work together on fulfilling supplier needs, and you have been approached by an investor. However, the acquisition team is very shrewd, and they know they have the power of a conglomerate behind them.

In the instance of this company, they already have global networks in place, but not the technology to allow instant communication between them. Their team knows you want what they have, which is an investment.

One way to gain leverage is to see what their problem is and solve it. Put yourself in their shoes. During your meetings, ask why they are interested in your company. What do they envisage you can solve for them? What challenges are they facing that you can help with?

Know your worth and your worth to them. This puts you in a position of power irrespective of whether they are a multimillion-dollar company and you are a one-woman band.

  5.   Bring Them Around to Your Thinking 

This may appear to be a daunting prospect if your counterpart has more power. So, you need to create some bridges to connect both sides.

Going back to your startup, your counterpart already has an investment in the outcome, but you don’t want it to be an “us vs. them” competition. Instead, you need to make sure they see you are both in it together. So, point out what you both have in common.

The more things they know you have in common that demonstrate your worth, the smaller the power gap. It’s no longer “us and them,” it’s “us” and how you can make it work for “both of you.”

Remember, one of the worst things you can do is negotiate against yourself. Understand what you, your services, or your mission is worth, and don’t undersell or second-guess. If you aim high, you won’t be disappointed when you meet somewhere in the middle.

It would be wonderful if every time we went into a negotiation, it were an even playing field. But that’s not always the case. All too often, you find yourself heading into a negotiation where the other side holds more cards.

To move them closer to what you want, you’ll need to make sure they know what they are invested in. Help them get over their “us vs. them” thinking and instead start thinking about how the deal they want will impact your company. Appreciate the position the other side is in and show them some respect. The deal that you wish for will then come naturally.

In conclusion, you never need feel intimidated if you go into a negotiation with someone who you perceive to be more powerful than you. You have the ability and the skills to be successful in your argument and achieve your goal. And if you use these five tactics as and when you need them, you can feel confident in your success.

If you liked this post, please check  overcoming fear in negotiation by going for the “no.”


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five tactics, gentle strength, power, power spectrum, sel-limiting beliefs, solutions

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