Negotiating with a Gorilla

“Gorilla Portrait” by bradleygee is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Negotiating with an 800-pound gorilla refers to dealing with a powerful, dominant, or influential party in a negotiation or business situation. The term is often used metaphorically to describe a situation where one party has significantly more power or leverage than the other. For many small to medium sized businesses, the chance to land a contract with a large company like Amazon or Boeing can seem like hitting the jackpot. That bid opportunity with a large company might seem like landing the goose that lays the golden egg. But when it lands on you, often it is not a goose, but an 800-pound gorilla.

For a good part of my career, I represented the 800-pound gorillas in many negotiations. They prefer standard terms, standard contracts, and have honed their people to squeeze as much cost savings (or revenue) out of every deal as possible. They control the carrots. They control the sticks, and they will replace a problematic partner at the drop of a hat. And while the value of a contract may be less than a rounding error to their overall size, the person representing that 800-pound gorilla in the negotiation needs to demonstrate their value to their employer for their own career objectives.

You may find that the opportunity is a “take it or leave it” situation, but that is not always the case. When the 800-pound gorilla wants to engage your business beyond a discrete purchase order, they give up some of their leverage. Keeping a few things in mind, you can likely negotiate a deal that you will not later regret.

Here are some tips for negotiating with an 800-pound gorilla:

  1. Be prepared: Develop a clear strategy and set specific goals for the negotiation. Anticipate the gorilla’s demands and objections. Prepare persuasive arguments and evidence to support your position. Make sure you know who the decision makers are. Will they be in the negotiation, or will agreements made at the table need to go to someone you don’t know for approval?
  2. Do your research: Before entering into a negotiation with a gorilla, make sure you thoroughly understand their position, interests, and priorities. Research their history, strengths, weaknesses, and previous negotiation outcomes to gain insights into their approach. See if you can find out who you are competing against, or who those likely competitors could be, and understand how you can position yourself to stand out. You want to avoid black swans, those unpredictable situations, that can result in extreme consequences.
  3. Build relationships: Building rapport and establishing a positive relationship with the other party can be very positive. We talk about the gorilla, but you are building a professional relationship with a person. Get to know and understand them. Find common ground. Show respect. Listen actively to their concerns. If you are competing for a contract, the person you are dealing with is going to consider not just the terms of the agreement, but how much they are going to want to work with you after the deal is signed. Building trust and goodwill can lead not only to more cooperative and productive negotiations, but a better long-term working relationship.
  4. Be assertive: While the gorilla may have more power, it’s important to assert your own interests and needs confidently. Be firm but respectful in your approach. Clearly communicate your positions, express your concerns, and advocate for your priorities. Understand what you need to get out of the negotiation as opposed to what you merely want to get out of the negotiation and use that to gauge whether the negotiation is moving in the right direction.
  5. Explore options: Look for creative solutions and options that can satisfy both sides. Be open to brainstorming potential win-win scenarios. Explore different possibilities and focus on finding mutual gains.
  6. Leverage your strengths: Even if you may not have as much power as the gorilla, identify and leverage your strengths. This could be your unique expertise or technology, market knowledge, or access to valuable resources. Use them strategically to create leverage in the negotiation.
  7. Be patient: Negotiating with a gorilla can take time and significant effort. Be patient, persistent, and prepared for setbacks. Avoid rushing into agreements that may not be in your best interest. Take breaks, regroup, and come back with a clear mind and refreshed approach.
  8. Consider alternatives: If the negotiation becomes challenging or unproductive, be prepared to consider alternatives. This could involve exploring other options, seeking assistance, or just walking away from a negotiation if it is not in your best interest to continue. No deal is often better than a bad deal.

Negotiating with an 800-pound gorilla can be intimidating, but it’s not impossible. By being well-prepared, assertive, and strategic, you can increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome in your negotiation. Be open to bringing in professionals that can help. That might mean conferring with an accountant, an attorney, or internal people in charge of quality, regulatory, finance, or other departments. And never paint yourself into a corner where you cannot walk away.

This blog is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This article, or contacting Apex, does not in any way form an attorney-client relationship. Speak to a licensed attorney if you need help or advice in how to negotiate with the 800 gorilla. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please contact George Ptasinski at or visit our website.


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