July  2015
Raphael Lapin



10940 WILSHIRE BOULEVARD, Suite 1600

Tel: 888-964-8884

Dear Clients and Friends



When negotiating from a position of perceived weakness, we feel helpless and impotent. In  this JULY '15 edition of NEGOTIATION STRATEGIES we offer three common scenarios of perceived weak positions and corresponding strategies to combat them, and achieve better outcomes.


For your reading convenience, we also distill this into a brief lessons learned at the end of the column.


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With Best Wishes 


Raphael Lapin


Common Scenarios and Strategies to Combat Them


We have all been in negotiations where we feel that we are the David facing the Goliath. We see very little opportunity for leverage; We have no alternatives should this deal fail, whereas they appear to have unlimited alternatives; We are small and insignificant compared to the corporation that we are negotiating with and they really don't need us; Or they are simply the only existing source for the particular product or service that we are seeking.


Faced with any  one of these sweat-producing, heart-pounding scenarios, we feel helpless, weak and impotent. This unfortunately often results in reluctant acquiescence and the acceptance of very poor agreements.


In this column I will present  a few common scenarios of perceived weakness and possible ways to combat them so as to achieve better outcomes.

SCENARIO ONE: You have limited alternatives and are pressured to reach a deal.


Scenario: Jerry Murphy (not his real name) was in negotiations to sell his ranch and had two or three potential interested parties. It was a buyer's market and the offers he was receiving were significantly lower than what he was hoping for. He knew that if he refused, they had many other equally good alternatives that they could pursue. In addition, he was in a position of weakness because he had an urgent need to sell due to an immediate relocation across the country for a new job, and had no interest in managing his ranch from the distance. He felt that he was in a position of abject weakness in these negotiations and was about to accept the best offer which was still not very good. In a state of desperation, Jerry approached us and asked if there was anything he might do to improve his odds and salvage the situation.


Strategy:  In advising Jerry, we suggested that instead of fixating on his own weaknesses in this negotiation, he should seek to uncover tacit weaknesses inherent in the other side. (There usually are some if one digs deep enough).  

We suggested that he engage the interested parties in dialogue with the purpose of developing as much information as possible. This involves questioning and probing towards understanding their true interest in purchasing a ranch. Following our advice, he learned a lot of new information, but of particular importance was that one of the negotiators was representing the owner of a neighboring ranch who wanted to expand his property. Suddenly he realized to his delight that he was actually no longer in a weak position but one of considerable strength. If his neighbor did not do this deal, he would lose perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to achieve his dream of expanding his ranch. Armed with this information he was able to negotiate an optimal agreement with very good terms.

SCENARIO TWO: They are the only game in town 


Scenario: A health care client needed to purchase a new drug which was being manufactured by only one pharmaceutical company. The company had no competition at that point in this drug category, and enjoyed a full market-share. Since they were the " only game in town" and essentially had a monopoly, they were able to exploit their advantage. They asked an exorbitant price and insisted on unreasonable conditions such as "at will" price increases during the term of the contract. Having an urgent need for this particular drug, our client's hands were tied.


Strategy:  In this case we felt that it was important to underscore the cost of short term gain at the expense of long term loss in negotiations with the vendor. We also made it known that we were feeling exploited and taken advantage of. We explained that it was only a question of a little time until a competitive drug was brought to market, and at that point we would be compelled to go with the competitor, given the exploitation we were currently experiencing.  We emphasized that these negotiations will set the tone for our future long term business relationship. 


To indicate our seriousness we also insisted on a very short term and non-exclusive contract with them, which would allow us to take advantage of any new entries to the market. At the same time, as an incentive, we also offered them a longer term exclusive contract if they could provide us with a fairer price point. We were able to persuade them that if they push us hard on the short term, just because they can, it would cost them more in the long term and they will lose market share rapidly. 


With the realization of long term costs and an incentive on the table to provide us with more reasonable pricing, we were able to reach an acceptable deal that both parties could live with.

SCENARIO THREE: They are more powerful and have greater resources than you


Scenario: A small Indonesian software company was involved in software development and they also entered into a distribution agreement with a large US software corporation to sell their products in Indonesia, a market into which the US company wished to expand. The arrangement was going well and the US company was gaining Indonesian market penetration, when the US company accused the Indonesian company of patent infringement and threatened a lawsuit. The smaller Indonesian company realized that the large US company had the resources and could afford to litigate, which would probably drive the smaller company to bankruptcy. How could the small company defend itself and survive?


Strategy: The Indonesian company needed to convince the large US company that they both have a shared interest in the survival of the small company because if it goes into bankruptcy, the US company loses its edge in the newly found Indonesian market. They would both be better served if they could work out an agreement around the disputed software, and continue their working relationship that will continue bringing value to both. 


By persuading the larger company and demonstrating how by "flexing their muscles", important mutual interests could be forfeited, indeed allowed the smaller company to negotiate a better deal.


The common denominator in all these three scenarios is that even though initially, it might seem as though we are negotiating from a position of severe weakness, by thinking more carefully about the  other side's weaknesses,  needs, concerns and risks, we can often combat and compensate for our own weaknesses and achieve fair, wise and amicable outcomes.

About1About Lapin Negotiation Strategies 


Lapin Negotiation Strategies offers training, consulting, advising and executive coaching in negotiation, business diplomacy and dispute resolution services.


Our proprietary and aggressively results oriented services are designed to help your leadership, teams and individuals master the essential negotiation, relationship-building and conflict management skills that increase revenues, decrease the high cost of conflict  and build  strong working relationships .

Our skilled specialists will:
  • Help your organization build a highly effective negotiation competency and culture which translates into increased revenue and strong business relationships.
  • Develop high impact, customized learning systems to develop advanced skills and powerful techniques in negotiation, dispute resolution and relationship management.
  • Provide advice, strategy, guidance and representation in live negotiation challenges
  • Facilitate, mediate and advise in dispute resolution
  • Create a culture of collaboration by guiding and training teams and divisions to engage in dialogue, to negotiate and to partner
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Raphael Lapin

Raphael Lapin, a Harvard trained negotiation and communication specialist. He is adjunct professor of law at Whittier School of Law in Southern California and visiting professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Raphael trains and advises Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world and is the author of "Working with Difficult People" (DK Penguin Essential Managers Series)
Working with Difficult People
 Learn more about Raphael Lapin's book, "Working with Difficult People" by clicking on the image above