How to Get Back on Track When a Negotiation Stalls

Every salesperson and businessperson has had the experience of being close to closing a deal with a cooperative prospect, when suddenly all progress grinds to a halt. Any number of factors for the roadblock may be to blame. Maybe discussions hit a snag due to a miscommunication or a lack of understanding. Maybe one party allows their emotions to get involved in the negotiation process. Or maybe one of the parties has been dishonest about what they can and cannot deliver.

Tactic #1: Return to a Prior Agreement

When your negotiations hit a difficult snag, the easiest solution is to stop and look back at all the agreements you and your counterpart have reached so far. Returning to a prior agreement causes everyone involved to focus on the positive breakthroughs you’ve made up to the point where you hit the snag. This tactic gives both parties hope for resolving the deadlock, and is sometimes enough to nudge people into compromises.

As you review your prior successes, say, “Look how far we’ve come. We’ve worked through all these problems and settled all these terms; surely we can come up with a solution on this issue.” Encourage your counterparts to focus on the big picture, instead of hanging on to one minor point.

Tactic #2: Take a Hypothetical Approach

Every problem has a number of solutions, and you can resume progress by looking at each solution and weighing the pros and cons. Approaching a problem from a hypothetical angle enables you to zero in on the individual points causing the holdup. This tactic forces you to closely examine all the elements involved in pursuing the option, and through the process you can discover exactly what the other party doesn’t like about it.

Present the option in question to your counterpart by saying, “Imagine if we did it this way. What are all the possible consequences?” By taking this approach, you may discover a small adjustment that will make the option acceptable. It also prevents you from scrapping an option completely and returning to the drawing board in search of new solutions.

Tactic #3: Identify Negative Consequences

Sometimes difficult situations require more severe solutions. If your counterpart won’t make a decision or agree to a concession, you may be forced to identify the negative consequences they face. This tactic is the strongest of all, and can be very effective when nothing else seems to dislodge objections blocking progress.

When discussions don’t seem to be getting anywhere, you can say something like, “If we can’t settle this to my satisfaction today, I’ll be forced to get my lawyer involved.” Quite often, a statement like this will at least get their attention. By using this tactic, you let your counterpart know that you’re serious and that you won’t be hassled.

Tactic #4: Play on Your Counterpart’s Emotions

Although you’re always supposed to leave your emotions out of negotiations, your counterpart doesn’t necessarily know that. And sometimes, all you need to get action is to trigger their emotions. But use some caution with this approach, because this tactic only works on some people; others are completely oblivious to it.

When you’re extremely close to a mutually beneficial agreement but for some reason you can’t get it together, try saying, “Is this issue going to ruin our negotiations? This is making me feel bad. I hate that we can’t seem to move forward on this.” This statement, followed by silence can have a tremendous impact on your counterpart’s resolve. But some may take it as a sign of weakness on your position. So use this tactic carefully and you’ll be surprised how frequently it works.

Tactic #5: Call a Time-out

An effective way to get action when negotiations become bogged down is to take a break. This approach allows both parties to cool off and look at the situation more objectively, and it signals to your counterpart that you’re unhappy with the terms being offered. Realize that a time-out is not a final cutoff, like a take-it-or-leave-it statement, but it does let your counterpart know that you’re not willing to haggle over minor details forever.

Try saying, “We don’t seem to be making progress, so why don’t we take some time to think about what we’ve accomplished so far and consider whether or not we want to continue.” Maybe you or your counterpart will come up with a new solution during the break.

Tactic #6: Defer Issues to an Objective Third Party

As a last resort, when none of the other tactics dislodge your snag, you can always bring in a neutral third party to help clarify issues and perspectives. A third party can look at the issues and positions without bias, and propose solutions that he or she believes will benefit everyone involved.

In extreme cases, you may consider submitting to a binding arbitration, where you and your counterpart agree to let the third party decide on the terms. In this situation, you agree in advance to accept the third party’s terms, whatever they may be. But before you defer the negotiations to a third party, be sure you are in a position to live with an objective decision. If both parties agree on taking this route, an arbitrator can solve even the toughest stalemates.

Stay on Track in the Future

When all parties involved in negotiations are sincerely interested in producing mutually beneficial agreements, they are less likely to get hung up on insignificant issues. But many times, even under the best circumstances, the decision-making process in negotiations can hit a wall. Knowing what’s at stake, what the issues are, and what each party wants doesn’t always guarantee that negotiators can smooth out their differences. So when your negotiations hit a difficult snag, use these tactics to get over the negotiation impasses and resume progress toward success.

John Patrick Dolan, Attorney at Law, Certified Specialist Criminal Law, CSP, CPAE is a recognized expert in the field of negotiation. He travels throughout the world presenting lively keynote speeches and in-depth training programs for business and legal professionals. Call 1-800-859-0888 for more information.

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