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Negotiating from a Weak Position

The Scotwork Team

Whether you are going toe-to-toe with your boss pursuing a raise or a small business negotiating a deal with a global brand, approaching the negotiation from a weaker position can feel like you’re attempting the impossible. How can you secure a win-win scenario if they seem to hold all the cards? The anxiety and worry this causes can result in a temptation to cut your losses, back down and accept a poor deal to prevent losing to an entity with more resources, power and influence than yourself. However, even when it seems that way, not all is lost. If you haven’t already tried a negotiation training course, you might not know that you wield more leverage than you first thought.

People often think that the other side has more power than they do, and this is rarely the case. If they are engaging in negotiation with you, it is because you have something they need, and you can leverage that power. Read our “Understanding Negotiation Power” eBook to learn more about the power of you.


Appear Powerful

If you walk into a negotiation believing you will lose, you increase the likelihood of this outcome. A skilled negotiator will notice your body language, defensive tactics and defeated mindset and use these to their advantage to secure a lucrative deal for their party.

To combat this, you must change your internal narrative. The other camp is interested in negotiating with you for a reason. You have something they want or need, and identifying what those are through extensive research, allows you to strengthen your alternatives, improve your argument and provide incentives. You should also consider your negotiation strategies and tactics. Do they project confidence? It is worth asking for feedback from colleagues, friends and family on your skillset and position so that you can change your mindset and negotiation behaviour in preparation. You could also practise appearing powerful by role-playing different scenarios that could arise.



Preparation is the foundation of a successful negotiation. You can’t secure a win-win scenario without a well-rounded understanding of the other party. This knowledge is critical to building a compelling argument, creating flexible alternatives and pinpointing desirable incentives. You need to answer the following questions:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What do they want and need from you?
  • How badly do they need it?
  • What are your shared goals?
  • Are they talking to your competitors?
  • If they are, do you have incentives you can offer?
  • What is your/their ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)?
  • What is your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)?
  • Are they under pressure?
  • What are their motivations?

To find these out, you should:

  • Speak to parties who’ve negotiated with them in the past.
  • Speak to past or current employees.
  • Use sources like the internet, public data, documentation, and publications.



Negotiation is nerve-wracking at the best of times. Add the pressure of attempting to secure a deal from a weak position, and the instinct to ramble and overshare can be overwhelming. In these moments, we suggest employing silence as a negotiation tool to prevent you from accidentally giving away critical information to the other party and missing chances to ask essential questions.

Silence in a negotiation is an opportunity to listen actively, think carefully and form responses. When used effectively, it can provide clues, encourage the other party to elaborate, defuse an aggressive tactic and give you critical thinking time. Silence is also a negotiating tactic, where the other side will aim to fill in the quiet moments and in doing so, they are likely to reveal more than they normally would.


Be Assertive

 If a negotiator knows they are approaching a negotiation from a strong position, they may reasonably expect you to accept their first deal without any opposition, even if it is a win-lose scenario that prevents you from securing your business’s aims. At that moment, your opponent is likely testing the waters to see what you will and won’t accept, and if you roll over, they’ll know they can do the same in the future. However, if your response is assertive, confident, and communicated clearly, you can secure a better offer and disrupt their image of you as the weaker party. If the deal is not what you are looking for, be polite, say no and present an alternative that falls within your ZOPA. Not only does this tell them you know what you are looking for, but it also lets them know you aren’t a pushover they can bully in future agreements.


Know Your Aims

To avoid being swayed or accepting an unfair deal, you need to know the aim of this negotiation for you and the other party. Established as a part of your research, you should know what goals are must-haves and which are incentives and, therefore, negotiable. This information informs your ZOPA and your BATNA.

Your ZOPA is the minimum and maximum you can offer and accept, and it helps you differentiate between an acceptable and unacceptable deal. Your BATNA is your list of alternatives you can present and use to overcome stalemates. They allow you to identify when the other party is taking advantage of you so that you can either provide more mutually beneficial proposals or walk away

The Scotwork Team
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