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Powerless? Think Again.

Simon Carkeek
230807 Powerless Think Again
© Scotwork NA

I just returned from a trip to Costa Rica with my family. It began stressfully due to a time crunch created by difficulties with our outbound flights. The flights had been booked using an online travel agency, and they were decidedly unhelpful. Any change would exceed our budget for the whole trip. So, I crossed my fingers and hoped for a smooth connection. We were fortunate and made our connection — but it was an unpleasant start to our vacation. 

The worst part of the experience was that I felt powerless during it, even though I wasn’t. For instance, I could have let the travel agent know that I would move my hotel and tour bookings to a competitor if they couldn’t help with my flight costs. I also overlooked that I’m acquainted with the travel agency’s CEO and I might have reached out to him for assistance. I was focused on my concern that my family would be disappointed instead of assessing my situation clearly. I didn’t take the time to evaluate my power.

It reminded me of a situation with a client I had advised. My client was trying to renew a key contract for months, and the deal was stuck. The account contact had changed. The new person refused to renew at the same rate and was asking for other concessions that my client was simply unable to give. All the while, they still had access to the services from my client’s company. She knew that the other side’s front-line workers valued those services, and after doing a thorough power-balance analysis, she decided to stop providing them until the contract was resolved. A somewhat chaotic 24 hours ensued, during which front-line workers made their voices heard. Within 48 hours, a deal had been struck, and the services were back online. 

This was not an easy thing to do — fear of losing the account was real. But understanding where she had power gave my client the confidence to act. Sanctions shouldn’t be the first resort, but they should feature in your negotiation preparations. In this instance, imposing the sanction was the most effective way of moving the deal forward. Further incentives would have cost my client more and dragged the situation out indefinitely.

So, the next time you feel powerless in a negotiation, consider the following:

    • Know that you have power. You might not feel like you have power, but the other side wouldn’t be engaging with you if you didn’t have something they wanted or something they were trying to avoid. 
    • Think about who is on your side. If the person you are negotiating with doesn’t acknowledge your power, look for others who could influence their perspective of your power. 
    • Don’t be afraid to use sanctions. Your power is a combination of the incentives and sanctions you can use. While using sanctions may not be your first choice, they can afford you possibilities.

And a final piece of advice from me: Always book flights directly with the airline, unless you have a travel agent you can really trust!


We Can Help You Find Your Power.
When your team is feeling powerless, it’s time they take a step back and find their power. It’s there, and we can help them find it!  We can help! Draw on Scotwork’s nearly 50 years of real-world negotiating experience to get better deals, save time, and create value that preserves and strengthens relationships. Partner with one of our advisers to ensure you have the optimum view of your deal.

Talk to one of our experts today.

Simon Carkeek
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