WHEN negotiating agreements in business or trying to resolve disputes, you will frequently reach a point in the negotiation where you hit a wall.
Frustration mounts as progress grinds to a halt and neither side is willing to budge. You doubt whether you will ever reach an agreement. What can you do to break the deadlock?
In many negotiations, most progress occurs in the final stages. Recognise that an impasse is common, and it does not mean that an agreement is beyond reach.
Accept it as a normal part of negotiation that can and will be overcome. By applying the techniques discussed below, you can increase your chances of overcoming an impasse and reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.
1. Revisit priorities
Focus on your interests, and help your counterpart focus on his. It is natural to lose sight of what is important and get distracted by minor issues in the heat of a negotiation. Refocusing your interests and priorities can help you get the negotiation back on track.
2. Look at all the options
Look for new and creative ways to add value. Explore options that have been overlooked. As a negotiation proceeds, you learn new information and gain new insights that may suggest other possible solutions that had not been apparent earlier.
3. Give a little
Offer to grant a small concession, which should be contingent on the other party making a concession in return. For example, “We would be willing to do X if you could do Y.” A small move can provide momentum and lead to further progress.
4. Bag the smaller goals
Focus the negotiation on smaller or easier items on your agenda. As you reach an agreement on some minor points, you build momentum that can carry you forward and make it easier to agree on larger issues.
5. Change the dynamics of the negotiation
A change in players and personalities can jumpstart a stalled negotiation. You might also change the physical environment. Different surroundings can change the atmosphere and put you back on track to a successful agreement.
6. Call a time-out
Review your strategy with other members of your team. Give yourself time for your emotions to cool down. Taking a break to relax and clear your head can work wonders.
7. Set aside quiet time
Agree to impose a fixed period of silence. This is not the same as taking a time-out where people go out of the room and forget about the issues. Everyone stays in the room, without saying a word for five to 10 minutes.
During this time all kinds of thoughts creep into people’s minds, causing both sides to moderate their expectations. This strategy is especially useful for husbands and wives trying to resolve a disagreement. It too works for those who have a close personal relationship with the other party.
8. Impose a deadline
In many negotiations, most of the progress is made in the final stages, as the deadline approaches. Deliberately adding time pressure may be just the motivation people need to get things moving again.
9. Please say “yes”
Ask your counterpart for his agreement. Sometimes it is just as simple as asking. If he says “yes”, that’s great! If he says no, ask why not? Listen carefully to his answer, address his concerns and set forth the remaining steps needed to conclude an agreement.
10. Bring in an impartial third party
A good mediator can recognise communication bottlenecks and help the parties overcome them. A third party can also help both sides to see things from other perspectives and bridge the gulf created by a lack of trust. Even after a lawsuit has been filed, a mediator can help the parties reach an agreement in the majority of cases.
11. Let it go
Be prepared to walk away from a business negotiation. Sometimes the best deal is no deal at all. Other times, your counterpart will call you back with a better offer. Just be sure you are not bluffing when you threaten to leave and you actually have some place to walk away to. In any event, end the negotiation on good terms — you may find yourself dealing with this person or organisation again in future.
An impasse may be discouraging, but it need not be the end of the line. Be persistent and you can put the negotiation back on track.