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Negotiating Tactic:  Poor Me (AKA: Limited Mandate)

Posted by Andrew Hupert on May 30, 2017 8:31:00 AM

Poor Me

AKA: Limited Mandate, Empty Pockets, Nothing I Can Do.

Negotiating Tactic:  Poor Me -- someone is pulling my strings

 Description: You would like to help – nothing would make you happier than to cut your price or improve your offer. But you don’t have the budget, the authority, or the resources. Nothing you can do.

 Sample Usage (Alvin and Bob):

  • Bob: “That’s impossible. Way too expensive.”
  • Tim, the technical rep at Global Cloud Solutions: “I’m sorry Mr. Clauson. That’s the only price I can offer.”
  • Bob: “But that’s 33% over last year. I’ve been a client of GCS for 5 years.”
  • Tim: “I’m very sorry. There’s nothing I can do”

 Intent: Support a claim that you have hit rock bottom and can’t go any further.

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Style: Avoiding. You are passing off responsibility – even if it’s only to an imaginary superior.

Category: Value Manager

PIHF (Power/Influence: Hope or Fear): This is really a power move, even though you are claiming that you personally lack power. You’re really telling him that there is nothing he can do about it.

Counter:   Tough to counter. You may have to Take It Or Leave It. Common Enemy or Best Friendswith a base of Big Story could work, if you are running into a Gatekeeper situation. When you are faced with this kind of tactic, you have three choices. Direct confrontation, Accommodation, or try to build a relationship and collaborate to clear the bottleneck.  Big Guns is your final move – before Walk Away.

Combination/Related: Policy, Gatekeeper, Secret Boss, Take it Or Leave It, End of the World.

 Note:  You’ve certainly heard it, though you may not have used it yourself.  If someone has said:

  •  “There’s nothing I can do.”
  • “I don’t have the authority.”
  • “That’s not my department.”
  • “These prices are set at corporate.”
  • “I’d like to help out, but I can’t.”

then they are claiming limited mandate. Poor Me, Policy, and Secret Boss are similar in that they all pass the buck for you – and evade responsibility. This is where Avoidance meets Competitive.   You have to be careful to integrate this with your chosen style, because Poor Me really annoys people.   If you need to take charge of this relationship in the future, it’s going to be much more difficult if you have been convincing him that you lack authority.

This is an effective technique with 2 caveats.

  1. It undercuts your authority
  2. It is extremely frustrating to hear – does not support relationship.

This one works best when you are part of a formal decision-making chain or have to get budgets approved.   It’s very effective, but you pay for it – in terms of reputation and relationship. So if you work for a bureaucratic organization and you don’t need a strategic relationship, then this is one of your go-to moves.

To counter this, you first have to decide if the person is Bluffing or not.   Many times this will be the truth. If he really lacks the authority, then you have to proceed with Gatekeeper counters. Build up the relationship to the point that you can turn him from a guard-dog into a messenger and supporter. If you think it is a Bluff, then use Big Story to re-spark his interest in the deal, and Big Guns as a threat in case you can’t.

Topics: Tactical Tuesday, Tactics, how to negotiate

Written by Andrew Hupert

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Every week, FlashMBA.com serves up the best negotiating tactics being used in business today.  You can look at these like something YOU should be doing -- or you can look at thiese as things EVERYONE is already doing.


  • Tactics are methods for reaching a goal
  • Every tactic has a counter-tactic
  • Every time someone speaks, they are using tactics.

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