A first meeting with a big client. An interview for a fantastic new job. A negotiation with a vital supplier. What do these all have in common?

In each case, we feel like we’re the ‘little guy’. The other party holds the power, and we, in our small and insignificant way, are offering ourselves up, putting ourselves in their hands, hopeful of their mercy and kind consideration.

Over the last decade or so, working with businesses and public sector organisations large and small, I’ve realised a surprising truth. Most of us feel like the ‘little guy’, most of the time. Even if our organisation is huge, with a massive budget and significant power in the eyes of the other party.

This was brought home to me some years ago when I was delivering negotiation training to some senior personnel at the Department for Work and Pensions. They were preparing for their role-play, and I overheard one say, to the nods of his colleagues “It’s alright for the IT suppliers. They hold all the cards. We just have to take what we’re given.”

If you’ve ever been an IT supplier trying to sell into a Government department, that description may not feel very accurate to you. Did you feel like you ‘held all the cards’? My guess is that you were thinking “It’s alright for these big Government departments. They have all the power. We just have to take what we’re given.”

So why are we so bad at accurately assessing our negotiating power, before we go into a negotiation? Of course, there are some who grossly overestimate their clout, too, which in many ways is just as dangerous. But underestimating means we aim too low, and inevitably leave lots of value on the table.

I’ve yet to be in a negotiation where the other party says “No, you’re worth more than that. Let us pay you an extra 20% above what you’ve asked for.” Or “Actually, we’re concerned that you’re taking too much of the risk in this deal. Why don’t WE take responsibility for X, Y and Z instead of you?”

I’m sure you’re familiar with the tale of David and Goliath – the story of a small man defeating a fierce giant. If you, like David, invest some time in accurately assessing your risks and opportunities, and identifying appropriate tactics and strategies, you may find that you, too, can score success when defeat seemed inevitable to those around you. 

Why “David devant Goliath”?

At the start of the last century, there was a young magician called David Whiting. Not the coolest of stage names, as far as he was concerned, and he was looking for something more compelling. On a visit to the Louvre in Paris, he came across a huge oil painting of David and Goliath. As it was in France, the little gold name-plate beneath the painting was in French – “David devant Goliath”, or “David in front of Goliath”. “Hmmm…” thought young Mr Whiting. “David Devant – I’ll have that!” And so David Devant, the magician who went on to found the Magic Circle, was born.

Anglicising the pronunciation (to rhyme with ‘ant’ rather than ‘want’), Devant became famous for his catch phrase “All done by kindness”. So when we were looking for a name for this business, over eleven years ago, Devant was the perfect choice. For us, it symbolises two key values:

  1. Power is not necessarily in the obvious places. Preparation and analysis can give you more power in a negotiation than an unprepared, albeit larger, adversary.
  2. Kindness is not weakness. It’s an essential component of all engagements, business and personal, and enables you to bring integrity to each negotiation – and ensures that if you ever find yourself on the other side of the table from that adversary again, you’re sure of a good welcome, whatever the outcome.

If you’re inspired to become a more powerful ‘David’ in the face of your corporate ‘Goliath’, call me for a free initial consultation or join me for our Contract Negotiation Workshop. You’ll learn the power of preparation, and the value of kindness, in securing lasting deals that deliver real value to both parties.

Tiffany Kemp
Founder and Managing Director, Devant