During a recent mediation, it was interesting to see how one of the parties changed positions the closer we got to another meeting he wanted to attend. As the other commitment neared, his position changed to "give her what she wants, I just want this over and to get out of here." Those that have mediated or have been parties at a negotiation workshop or settlement conferences probably have their own stories regarding how things settled as 5:00 neared, or as other deadlines loomed. In many negotiations, parties wait until the eleventh hour to alter their positions, soften their demands, and attempt settlement.
Timing is a critical component of a negotiation workshop. Time is a motivational factor for negotiators as well as a variable regarding how well interests will be met. The most common form of time management in regards to final bargaining and settlement is the deadline.
Deadlines define the limits regarding the period of time in which a negotiation workshop must be reached. A trial date is a common deadline that influences parties to settle in many cases days or even hours before trial.
The unpredictable outcome of court proceedings and the potential for negative consequences during a negotiation workshop influence an out-of-court settlement. But just as studying for finals is not as urgent until the days or night before the exam, settling a case is often not urgent until the trial deadline nears.
Negotiators need to understand deadlines and how they can be used from a negotiation workshop for the mediation process. These situations must be considered as part of preparation.
In The Mediation Process by Christopher W. Moore, he discusses different characteristics and variables of deadlines that affect their utility in a negotiation workshop. I'll briefly share a few of those here. These are all things a good negotiator will consider during the process.
Internally and Externally Established Deadlines
Deadlines can be established by a party, or outside forces may be the determining factor when the negotiation workshop ceases. The above impending court date is an example of an externally imposed constraint. This external deadline can be important to the negotiator in that without the "last minute" time pressure, a client may feel that a more favorable deal could have been made if they would have held out longer or bluffed more.
Coordinated and Uncoordinated Deadlines
Parties may have the same time limits or different ones. For some, a delay in a negotiation workshop may result in increased benefit, where for others a rapid decision may be essential. In the example at the beginning of this column, waiting helped one party as the other "gave in" when his deadline neared.
Actual and Artificial Deadlines
Some parties will be constrained by a negotiation workshop regarding events beyond their control, and other deadlines may be artificial time constraints that are more or less arbitrarily established by one or more parties. These deadlines are related to rigid and flexible deadlines. Rigid deadlines, as those set by a court, are often a stronger impetus for settlement because the parties must adhere to the time boundaries.
More flexible deadlines such as an arbitrarily established negotiation workshop may provide extra latitude to reach decisions when additional time is needed to consider last-minute proposals or to gain the needed approvals.
Without a deadline, or at least a perception of a deadline, there is little inducement for taking action, much less for accommodation and compromise. While you will never know everything that motivates behavior, deadlines do help precipitate action. With this in mind, you can better understand deadlines and how they influence the negotiation process and how you can use them to reach agreements and settlements.