6.5 Dealing with negotiation deadlock


It is not uncommon in negotiations for an impasse to arise – where the two sides just cannot see eye to eye and progress is not being made. The key here is to remain calm and patient. Try to step back from the heat of the talks and understand what has lead to the current situation. Suggest taking a break, often it is tension and fatigue that lie behind many deadlock situations. Sometimes a few hours may be sufficient for you to recharge you batteries and see a new angle with which to address the impasse. The natural assumption is that the other party is at fault and often the best way to analyze the situation is to put yourself in their position.

It may be useful for the senior negotiators to have a round of discussions together, with a view to removing the deadlock in the absence of other team members who have developed a negative mind-set. Alternatively a group brainstorming session may reveal an effective route around the block. If the deadlock is proving to be immovable then it may be worth raising issues that are on a higher plane than the existing talks themselves. For example, the importance of your long term relationship, the advantages of reaching an agreement and the dangers of not doing so, as well as the fact that a negotiated settlement is in both of your interests whilst conflict is not. Factors such as these raised and discussed diplomatically may help by focusing attention on the bigger picture.

Knowing When to Leave
Leaving the negotiating table is not necessarily the final move – it can also be employed as a powerful tactic. There are circumstances where leaving a negotiation may be your best course of action.

When the other side is unreasonable in their demands or behaviour
If the other side is in a strong position they may feel as though they can force you to meet unreasonable demands and requirements. They may even try to bully you into accepting their terms. You should always give the other side the benefit of the doubt but when it becomes clear that they are not interested in compromise or concession then leaving may be the best option.

After you have made a final offer which has not been accepted
You must be very careful when making ‘final’ offers, but if you do so and it is not accepted then you should gracefully leave the negotiation. It rings very hollow if when your ‘final’ offer is rejected you immediately produce an improved one. If you need to back-track then you should do so at a later time – for example by saying that new information has come available or that your boss has given you more latitude.

When negotiations reach an impasse
When you feel as though both sides have thoroughly researched all of the possibilities but you still can’t reach an agreement then quitting enables both parties to go away and re-evaluate their positions. It may well be that the side that suggests the termination or adjournment retains the higher ground with reference to any future renewal in negotiations. If the deal is important enough then both sides will probably return with some new ideas.

When you have achieved your objectives
If you have achieved what you originally wanted from the negotiation then don’t make the mistake of continuing to negotiate. View negotiations like climbing a mountain, once you have reached the summit the only way is down – so leave as quickly as courtesy allows.