3 Tricks for Smart Negotiating When You're the One With Less Power

Negotiating well is always tricky. It's even trickier when you feel you're under the gun. Maybe, for instance, you're a job seeker in the middle of a pandemic, when half the country is out of work. Maybe you're a business trying to buy some essential item that's in short supply. Maybe you're trying to get your rent reduced because of the global turmoil. 

In each of these scenarios, you're clearly going into the negotiation with less leverage than the other party. But you don't have to just swallow your pride and accept whatever offer they give you, according to a helpfully timed roundup of the research on low-power negotiating from European business school Insead. 

According to experts, there are several strategies that can help you get a better deal for yourself despite your relative lack of leverage:

 

1. Imagine another offer. 

With a plague racing across the world, the truth is many of us are short of good options at the moment. You might not have another job offer or alternate supplier. But while reality is limited, imagination is not. Visualizing another strong alternative can strengthen your negotiating hand. 

When a team of Insead professors asked study subjects participating in mock MBA interviews to imagine an attractive alternative offer, they negotiated "more ambitiously and improved their outcomes vs. individuals who just showed up," reports Insead Knowledge. 

So before you go into a negotiation or a job interview, spend some time imagining another positive scenario should the opportunity you're seeking fall through. It's a purely fictional exercise, but research suggests it will strengthen your real-world resolve.

 

2. More information is more power.

Information is power. The more you know about the position of the person on the other side of the table, the greater your leverage.

In a job interview, this often means digging into the challenges the company is facing so you can better articulate how you'll contribute to solving them. A similar approach works if you're negotiating with customers or business partners, too. The more you know about their pain points and goals, the better armed you are to dazzle them with your ability to help. That's always true, but it's even more true when you start out in the weaker position. 

 

3. Now is not the time to be shy about networking. 

Sometimes people feel shy about fully utilizing their network to influence the outcome of a negotiation. Is it ethical? Is it awkward? Now is not the time to indulge such concerns. When you're in a low-power position, you need all the help you can get. So if you know someone who can possibly put in a good word for you, don't be shy about asking. 

Once you take these three steps, you should be in the strongest possible position for your negotiation. Now the trick is not to be rattled by your relative lack of power. Negotiators who perceive themselves as having the upper-hand may even get sloppy, giving away more details about their problems and limitations that you can use to your advantage. Being relatively weaker has some advantages. 

"When facing a counterparty holding more power than you, know your strategy, stick to your plan, and, if threatened, never retaliate with a threat," negotiation expert Jeff Weiss tells Insead. The article adds that formulating "if-then" plans on how you'll respond to various scenarios before you kick off the negotiation can help keep you on track.