When negotiating agreements in business or trying to resolve disputes you will frequently reach a point in the negotiation where you hit a wall. Progress grinds to a halt, neither side is willing to budge, and frustration mounts. You may doubt whether you will ever reach an agreement. What can you do to break the deadlock? You may wish you could return to the last negotiation workshop you attended to see if you could pick up an idea that would help.
In many negotiations, most progress occurs in the final stages. As you may recall from your negotiation workshop, an impasse is common and 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.
- 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 on your interests and priorities can help you get the negotiation back on track.
- Look for new and creative ways to add value. Explore options that have been overlooked. Delve back into the principles you recall from your negotiation workshop. In addition, as a negotiation proceeds you learn new information and gain new insights which may suggest other possible solutions that had not been apparent earlier.
- Offer to grant a small concession, 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 movement can provide momentum and lead to further progress.
- Focus the negotiation on smaller or easier items on your agenda, the kind you may recall from a negotiation workshop. As you reach agreement on some minor points you build momentum that can carry you forward and make it easier to agree on larger issues.
- 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.
- 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. You can also check your notes from a previous negotiation workshop.
- 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 or ten minutes. During this time all kinds of thoughts creep into our minds, causing both sides to moderate their expectations. This strategy is especially useful for husbands and wives trying to resolve a disagreement, as well as others who have a close personal relationship with the other party.
- Impose a deadline. In many negotiations most of the progress is made in the final stages, as the deadline approaches. A Deliberately adding time pressure may be just the motivation we need to get things moving again.
- Ask your counterpart for his agreement. Sometimes it is just as simple as asking. If he says yes, 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. Try to deal with the issues the way you did in a negotiation workshop, when the issues were real but the pressures were much lighter and gave you mental space to think.
- Bring in an impartial third party. A good mediator can recognize 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.
- 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 walk away, and that you have someplace to walk away to. In any event, end the negotiation on good terms - you may find yourself dealing with this person or organization 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.