Deadline? We Don’t Need No Stinkin Deadline…

by drjim on February 3, 2009

Deadlines Show Up During Negotiations, But Are They Real?

Deadlines Show Up During Negotiations, But Are They Real?

What would the world of negotiating be without deadlines? I can tell you that Hollywood movies would lose a lot of their plot if the bad guys couldn’t set impossible deadlines for our heroes to try to meet. What about real life – why do people use deadlines while negotiating?

It’s actually pretty simple, a deadline is an effective communication tool. Deadlines can be used by either side to apply pressure to the other side and force them to make a choice. If the party that’s under pressure chooses to accept the deadline, then the deal will be done. Otherwise, who knows?

You see, the trick with deadlines is that when you are presented with one you can never be quite sure that it’s real. In the game of poker this is called bluffing. The one thing that we do know about a deadline is that if we accept it, everything will be resolved. However, there will always be that unanswered question as to what would have happened if we had not met the deadline…

One solid piece of advice is given by experienced negotiators: always be skeptical of any deadline that you encounter during a negotiation. These types of fixed time limits have a tendency to come and go.

Now having said this, you also have to realize that in real life sometimes a deadline is real. If you choose to not meet it, then you are running the very real risk that this may kill the deal once and for all.

In order to help you see your way through the deadline maze, here are three questions that you need to ask yourself anytime that you encounter a deadline during a negotiation:

  1. For The Other Side: what deadlines do you know about that the other side has to live with? Do you know what will happen if they miss their deadlines?
  2. For You: what deadlines have been placed on me by either my team, my organization, or myself? Will these deadlines limit how effective I can be during this negotiation?
  3. Renegotiation: Is is possible for my team to renegotiate any of the deadlines that have been placed on us by our own people? Who says that we can or cannot?

As much as we all dread having the other side throw a deadline at us, we need to remember that deadlines are an effective tool that we have in our own bag of tricks. Studies of negotiations have been done and they have revealed that deadlines do one thing very well – they force the other side to make a decision.

All too often in a negotiation, things can be dragging on for too long. If you find yourself in this situation where the other side appears to be resisting making up their minds, then perhaps a deadline is called for.

This type of situation often shows up when the other side is faced with an especially difficult decision. They will drag their feet longer in order to avoid having to make up their mind. If you can convey to them that there is a sense of legitimacy to your deadline, then you can use this powerful tool to close the deal faster.

Have you ever been presented with a deadline during a negotiation? Were you able to determine if it was a real deadline? Did you meet the deadline or did you skip it? What happened then? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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