Turning a Weak Position Into a Strong One

It is scary facing an adversary who appears to be dominant. This is true in self-defense situations, and it is true in negotiations. Just as I teach my hapkido and self-defense students that if attacked it will most likely be by a bigger and stronger opponent, we must often enter negotiations with a distinct disadvantage. Negotiating against someone who has a clearly dominant position is one of the greatest fears when negotiating. However, just as smaller people can learn to defend themselves against bigger and stronger attackers, we can learn to overcome a weak bargaining position to negotiate more effectively.

It is no fun entering a negotiation with a weak position. This is especially true when the opposing negotiator senses your weakness and attacks with tactics aimed at getting you to accept an unreasonable “take it or leave it” offer. Therefore, the projection of power during negotiations can increase how successful you’ll be.

Bluster, bravado, and bullying tactics are not what I mean by projecting a strong negotiation position. Replacing facts and figures with raising your voice can often be seen through as an obvious bluff. Without bravado and bullying, you should be self-confident regarding your negotiation success. If you are not confident you can succeed, you may want to reconsider negotiating in the first place. Going into a negotiation thinking and feeling that you will be slaughtered will most likely get you – slaughtered. If you think you are beaten, you will be. If you think you are not beaten, you still have a fighting chance. This is pretty much a universal principle for anything, negotiation included.

One of the most important keys to turning a weak position into a strong one when you cannot change the facts of the situation is in the projection of power. You want to project power through self-confidence and avoid projecting or showing weakness.

When discussing power, there are numerous considerations, and in fact there are many entire books on the topic. For purposes here in this short article, I want to focus on the difference between real power and perceived power. Real power being the power you actually possess and perceived power being the power others think you have. When we have the weaker bargaining position, it is often due to an imbalance of power. The weaker position is often due to having less real power, such as the small business owner negotiating with the large bank or the employee negotiating with his boss.

We must remember that perception is often more important than reality. Tom Peters and Bob Waterman wrote that perception is reality in their hugely popular “In Search of Excellence.” In negotiations, the perceptions of the interested parties usually have much more to do with the eventual outcome than the realities of the situation being bargained over. A person’s perceived power may be due to many different factors. The senior partner’s secretary may have greater influence with some decision-making than associates in a firm due to her proximity to the seat of power, even if her salary and actual authority is less than the attorneys in the firm. The significance between real and perceived power in the negotiation arena is that you don’t necessarily need a strong position when you negotiate as long as you are perceived as having one. If the opposing party thinks you have a strong position, that can be just as good as actually having one.

Besides perceived power, it is also important to maximize the power you do posses. In martial arts, the term structure can be used when referring to elements such as proper breath, spinal alignment, triangular positioning, posture, and axis among others. Sound anatomical structure is significant when faced with a deficit in terms of size and strength. By understanding and exercising sound anatomical structure, combined with techniques designed to maximize one’s strength for maximum effect to an opponent, the smaller person can exploit weak structure of an opponent and use sound structure and proper technique to compensate for lack of size and strength, thus being able to defeat the larger and stronger attacker. When negotiating, strength does not always come from your positions or what you have to trade at the bargaining table. Your ability to negotiate, which includes negotiation tactics, can assist you when negotiating against someone with a clearly dominant position.

Therefore, improving your negotiation skills, through study, practice, and experience will help you negotiate when your position is not as strong as those across the table. Your opponent may have the superior position, but if he is inept at negotiating, your better skills and tactics can see you through.

One important tactic when negotiating from a point of weakness is to focus on your strengths. Even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds, we can find strengths that may have been initially overlooked. It might take more planning, preparation, and forethought, but there are usually strengths, even if small, that we can focus on to improve our situation. We must always remember that the only reason someone is negotiating with us in the first place is because we have something they want. By focusing on our strengths, our confidence increases. It was noted above why confidence and projecting power are important. Use every strength you have to its maximum advantage.

Another important tactic is to focus on your opponent’s weaknesses. I often teach smaller people to go for the eyes if attacked by a larger person. Even the smallest person can cause damage to a three hundred pound behemoth if they jab their finger in the monster’s eye. The person you are negotiating with will have a weakness. You need to find the opening in their armor or their Achilles Heel. Once you find this, you can work their weaknesses into your overall strategy. When you find weaknesses, you add strength to your negotiating position. Sometimes these weaknesses will be readily apparent, other times you will need to research, probe, and explore with questions to uncover them. Regardless of how you find them, identifying and focusing on your opponent’s weaknesses will have a positive effect on the outcome as you negotiate from a weaker initial position.

In conclusion, we must accept the fact that at times we will enter negotiations with a distinct disadvantage and have to negotiate against someone who has a clearly dominant position. Rather than roll over and accept an unreasonable “take it or leave it” offer, the disadvantaged negotiator can improve this weaker position by focusing on the strengths of the position, finding the weaknesses of the opponent, and projecting power through self-confidence. Through study, practice, and experience, we can learn to overcome a weak bargaining position to negotiate more effectively. We need never fear the dominant adversary again.

Smile and Walk Away Negotiation Strategy

One of the best negotiation strategies you have when negotiating over the price of something is to get up and prepare to leave while saying, “Thanks for everything, but I’m not interested in the terms of this deal.” You may also say something like, “This deal is not for me,” or “I just can’t do it at that price.” Say this with a smile, shake their hand, and wish them all the best as you prepare to leave.

Never put yourself in a position where you can’t walk away. Don’t fall in love with a product or service. If the seller knows you “must have it,” it will be much more difficult for you to negotiate the best price. If you can stay emotionally detached from your deals, you will be able to make smarter, more rational decisions.

The key is to be able to walk away on good terms. If you explode with a barrage of expletives and storm out slamming the door at the “outrageous prices,” or something similar, you will have closed off future negotiations with this seller. If you smile, wish them the best, and leave on good terms, you have not closed the door to future negotiations. Keep a positive attitude and don’t get personal. It’s just business.

I used this the last time I purchased a car. I had the absolute rock bottom lowest price sitting before me after having several changes in price and interest rate already. And in fact, I had a deal that was in my range of acceptance and that was a good deal on the car sitting in front of me. However, I wanted to try and get a bit better. I stood up, told the salesperson that I appreciated his time and what he offered, but it just wasn’t good enough for us to buy the car. I then told my wife we should leave. And we did! We shook hands, took his card, and left.

We drove down the street a ways and pulled into a parking lot where we could talk. We discussed that the price they came down to was pretty good according to the research we had done on the vehicle before that day. They also had lowered the interest rate to a rate just below the best our personal bank was offering on the same auto loans. Over all, it was a pretty good deal and we would not get much better. We waited about 30 minutes and I called the salesman from my cell phone. I told him that we really liked the vehicle, and if he could just help us out by coming down a bit more we might be able to make the deal work. He said he could come down another $500.00. (Earlier, before we walked, he told us they couldn’t come down any lower.) I told him if he would do that we would go back to the dealership and buy the car. A couple hours later we were driving our new car home.

So remember, don’t become too attached and be prepared to walk away. If you do walk, smile and walk away on good terms. Smiling and walking away just might help you get the deal you want.

Negotiate Successfully by Using Debating Techniques

In the last negotiation lesson, I expounded on the benefits that proper positioning has and the role it plays, before, during, and after negotiating. This lesson expands upon that theory and takes into account how any negotiator can enhance the outcome of a negotiation by using a few debating techniques.


First, I’d like to cite an experience I encountered at a conference at which I recently spoke. There was a very powerful speaker who spoke on the topic of leadership. I heard him speak in the past, but this time I was moved by his words to the point that I wanted to purchase the DVD set he offered for the continuation of the expansion of one’s mind. As luck would have it, a lady in front of me purchased the last set. She heard me exclaim how I couldn’t believe the bad luck I had to miss purchasing the set. Then, this well poised and well spoken women, turned to me and said, ‘you can have it’. I looked at her suspiciously for about 30 seconds and in my mind, I was wondering what she might want in return (read between the lines if you wish. she had already paid for the set and she was giving it to me for free). It was as though she read my mind when she said, ‘there are no strings attached’. She gave me her contact information and said I could send the set to her after I’d listened to it. As it turned out, this woman whose name is Tori really didn’t want anything in return, but due to her generosity, I’ll assist her in her endeavors in the future.

In the above example of positioning, Tori was not seeking anything from me, but think of what you can do before entering into a negotiation that can endear you to whom you’re negotiating.

After you endear yourself, how can you utilize debating techniques to enhance your negotiation position? The following are a few debating techniques and how they are related to negotiation tactics and strategies.

Debating Techniques:

When debating and negotiating, there are certain principles you should follow …

Clarity: When debating, you should understand the argument.

When you negotiate, you should always confirm your understanding of why you’re negotiating. You should also confirm the other person’s understanding, and get their perception, of what is being negotiated; the reason for doing so is to make sure everyone involved in the negotiation is ‘on the same page’.

Accuracy: When debating, you need to ask yourself if what you hear is true and can it be proven.

When you negotiate, you should at a minimum, mentally question the validity of information presented to you. You should also observe the body language and manner in which information is presented. If you observe the body language of the person you’re negotiation with, you could discern hidden or additional information in the message.

Precision: When debating vague assertions can be assumed to be true until exceptions disprove them.

When you negotiate, if the person’s words that you’re negotiating with are not synchronized with their body language, you can allow the person to continue to unveil their method of ‘bending the truth’ to the point that you’ve gathered enough knowledge of how they use their body when lying. In so doing, you’ll acquire insight into how they lie and you’ll be able glimpse the inner workings of their mind and the mannerisms displayed when doing so.

Depth: When debating, you should observe the comprehensiveness of an argument. In essence, listen for that which is not stated that could prove to be a benefit to your position.

When you negotiate, you should listen for the unspoken word, observe body language, and take note of how unspoken words are used (this is not an oxymoron). In a lot of negotiation situations, that which is not said can speak more loudly than the words that are spoken. You should also take note of words used that could contain dual meanings. Keep in mind when negotiating, just because someone offers a comprehensive rebuttal to a request, doesn’t mean you have to subjugate your position to theirs.

Breadth: When debating, give consideration to whether the argument covers all of the possibilities.

When you negotiate, initially, you should not display your full intentions until you’re somewhat sure that you can get that which you seek from the negotiation. In essence, you cannot allow yourself to become enveloped in a haze when it comes to disclosing your intent of the negotiation less you lose your negotiation advantage.

Logic: When debating you should consider the impact of fallacies in an argument.

When negotiating, a good negotiator can make a plausible argument using false or invalid inferences, the purpose of which may be to heighten the appearance of red herrings. It thus behooves you to be very cognizant throughout all phases of the negotiation.

When negotiating, the more strategies and techniques you’re aware of, and can utilize during negotiations, the better you’ll be at negotiating … and everything will be right with the world.

The Negotiation Lessons are …

– Before negotiating, consider the tactics you’ll employ. Proper planning will give you an additional edge as the negotiation progresses.

– Understand the illusion and value that red herrings can create. When used effectively, they create the opportunity to give something that has perceived value to the person with whom you’re negotiating, but that which has little value to you.

– When negotiating, as is the case when debating, a synchronized plan, aligned with the path that you’ll take to achieve the outcome of the negotiation you seek, will allow you the insight of more maneuverability throughout the negotiation.

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