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January 30, 2017

Help! I feel powerless!

Maybe it’s something about the bleakness of winter. In the last few weeks I have had several people ask me variations of the question, “How do I negotiate when the other person has a lot more power than me?”

“When the other side seems to hold all the cards, how you negotiate is absolutely critical,” wrote Roger Fisher and William Ury in the influential book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In”.

First of all, don’t be discouraged. Your skill as an interest-based negotiator and your preparation can create the opportunity for success. 

It pays to think positively and optimistically, and at the same time realistically. There is no point wasting your time and effort trying to negotiate the impossible.  Unless you can make the other side an offer they find more attractive than what they can achieve if you are not involved, trying to get a better deal with them doesn’t make sense. The company offering a young person their first job after graduation is not going to offer the CEO job, not matter how well the grad negotiates.

Power is not static, so that one person constantly has it and the other does not. As you negotiate, the power may shift from on negotiator to the other.  That’s where your negotiation skill and careful preparation can pay off.  Just because you feel powerless is not a reason to avoid trying to change the situation.  Here are 6  tips to increase your power. 

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.     The more important this negotiation is to you, the more thoroughly you should prepare. Learn more about interest-based negotiation if you need to improve your skills. Gather and make notes of the information and ideas to achieve the next tips.
  2. Enhance your alternatives.    It may seem odd that one important source of power is to develop your alternatives to walk away from this negotiation. The stronger your alternatives without this negotiation, the more your negotiating power increases.*   You may or may not choose to inform the other side about your alternatives.
  3. Build a good working relationship with them.     This can be the most challenging and at the same time most effective step. When communication breaks down we often feel that the other person is the problem. Treat the other person with respect. Take the time to listen to them and try to understand. Help them understand your point of view. Acknowledge the emotions. Good communication is an excellent source of negotiating power.
  4. Identify their interests.    The more you understand the other person’s interests, the better you may be able to satisfy them at minimum cost to yourself. Especially when you feel that you have less power, identifying the interests that you have in common with them may be a key to them starting to appreciate your interests.  
  5. Be open to creative options.    Increase your power to influence them by inventing a way to meet their interests AND your interests. This is where your thorough understanding of their interests and your interests makes a difference. In the negotiation after you thoroughly understand each other’s interests it’s time to brainstorm with them for ideas that will meet as many of the interests as possible.
  6. Measure fairness by using external standards.    When it seems that you do not have as much power, it is particularly helpful to find standards outside of you and the other negotiator to measure fairness. For example, the new grad hoping for a job offer would be well advised to gather information about the range of pay and other benefits for this type of job in this region.

  * For more information see What is a BATNA and why do I need one?

    Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

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