Power Without a Backing

7 Nov

When people go into a meeting, they have a general idea as to how successful they’re going to be. When people go into a meeting with no expectations and no reason to be optimistic or pessimistic, that’s when things get tricky. Little did I know that I was being thrust into a business meeting over the summer where I had nothing to bargain with and no expectation to succeed.

I was told to dress nice. I came in a suit. I was told to come early. I came 15 minutes early. I was told to be relaxed. I made myself comfortable. Who would have thought this was all a psychological game. I was entering a meeting with the representatives of a health insurance company and my company’s CEO to determine the future pricing of health insurance for our employees at a real estate developer. “Our company is small so these guys have no reason to listen to us,” I was told, “they didn’t even want to come and talk with us.” How were we going to make these representatives listen to us?

The Game Plan

We were going to make them feel like they had to listen to us. The meeting was on a sunny, Friday afternoon when no one wants to work. The meeting was at our office so they had to travel. We dressed nicely to appear serious and intimidating. We even printed out sheets of paper with our proposals on them to make our proposals seem official and in writing. We knew there was a slim chance we gained anything out of the meeting but we were going to make this feel important. The psychological game was about to begin.

The Meeting

They were seated in the meeting room while we intentionally entered ten minutes late so that we didn’t appear anxious. I was told to start chit-chat so that the meeting went on longer than they hoped. The longer they were there, the more likely it was that they would give in. We told stories and talked sports and school for 30 minutes. Delaying was over. We handed them our proposals and discussed different mutually beneficial possibilities. Health insurance is tricky. One year means nothing about the next, and there are no guarantees. There was no use in bargaining. They simply couldn’t comply. We knew they were right. We told them that we needed any “good news” to give to the employees. This last ditch effort to appeal to their sympathy resulted in a decreased rate by a measly fraction of a percent.

Who Won?

At the end of the meeting, my CEO admitted he had intentionally set up the meeting to teach me how to bargain with no power. The suits, the chit-chat, the timing–it was all a plan. Ironically, they admitted that they had done the same thing by wearing suits and coming a little early. They loved the firsthand lesson and gave feedback. Neither side had much to say about the business aspect, but the meeting had been a power struggle through actions and appearance. Who won in the end? We both did. They kept our business, obvious all along, and we got them to give in a little bit when they had absolutely no reason to. Sometimes, you have to make the other side of a deal think what you want them to think in order to get what you want.

by Eric Weinstein

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