By: Ben Byth, Scotwork

Originally published on and re-shared with permission here

“If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table”. Frank Underwood, House of Cards.

A client really impressed me a couple of weeks back with their ability to negotiate a transaction from a position of weakness. Their position was weak because they needed this deal to go through, they had no other alternatives to fall back on, and time was quickly running out.

Negotiating is easy when you have a lot of power – you can simply demand you get your way! On the other hand, it is much harder when the power is more evenly balanced, but worse still when the power is not in your favour at all.

My client was faced with a price rise from a supplier that they didn’t want to accept. Pressure testing the objectives made it clear that securing supply of this critical input was more important than not accepting the price rise. My client was also staring down the reality that if this wasn’t resolved quickly, their local supply would run dry and their production environment would be impacted. Time was working against my client.

So, what did they do from this position of weakness? My client pushed back on the unilateral price rise and their supplier came to the negotiating table!

Why is this so interesting? My client actually had more power than they first realised.

Their supplier was also interested in receiving purchase orders and processing volume quickly. What this meant was that my client’s source of power was their ability to sign off purchase orders now (which was also their weakness). My client walked away from that negotiating table with a steep reduction from the original price rise and a number of creative wins to offset the price rise that they did agree to. These creative wins were low cost/low difficulty tradeoffs from the supplier but value adds for my client to help them come to terms with the now reduced price rise.

To summarise… when negotiating from a seemingly weak position:

  1. You will often have more power than you think. Ask yourself what your counterpart wants (incentives), and wants to avoid (sanctions)?
  2. If things aren’t going your way, be assertive and take control of the outcome/timing by making a proposal or counterproposal.
  3. Being creative with the variables will help both sides to be more flexible.

Happy negotiating!