How To Negotiate With Someone Who Can’t Make Up Their Mind

by drjim on October 23, 2015

Negotiations with someone who can't make a decision can go on for a long time

Negotiations with someone who can’t make a decision can go on for a long time
Image Credit: marta … maduixaaaa

The reason that we negotiate is because we want to have a discussion with the other side of the table in order to determine if we are going to be able to reach a deal with them. Generally this process goes fairly well: we sit down, we negotiate, we either reach a deal or we don’t. Where things can go wrong is when we encounter someone who has difficulty making decisions. In this situation, there’s a very good chance that no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques we use, we’re not going to be able wrap this negotiation up!

Why People Who Can’t Make Decisions Make Bad Negotiators

It might be obvious, but it is probably still worth discussing: people who struggle to make decisions make poor negotiators. This is going to cause problems for you when you negotiate with this type of person. Very quickly you’ll discover that you’ll never be sure just exactly where you stand with them. What’s even worse is that if you think that you do know where you stand with them, you are probably wrong!

The person who has difficulty making decisions has no problem changing their mind. If they told you “yes” on an issue an hour ago, they may now be telling you “no” to the very same issue. What’s even worse is that at any time in the negotiations they make look at you and tell you that they understand your point, but they’d like some time to think about it.

A key characteristic of this type of negotiator is that they really, really do not want to be forced to make a final decision about anything (because they might be wrong). If you find a way to force them to make a decision, they what they will do is to look around to find a way that will allow them to not be bound by their decision – they want a way out. Sadly enough for you, for this type of negotiator if it’s easier to say “no” than “yes”, then they’ll say “no” and make it that much harder for you to reach a deal with them.

How To Handle People Who Can’t Make Decisions

When you find yourself in a negotiation with someone who is not good at making decisions, you are going to have find ways to to move forward steadily. This type of negotiator is always going to be trying to take you backwards. You need to take steps to make sure that this does not happen.

The key to being able to reach a deal with this type of negotiator is to take the time to always tell them where you think that you are in the negotiations. This means that you say things like “We are discussing 5 issues, we have agreed to 2 issues and we have 3 issues left to resolve.” If the other side disagrees with what you’ve said, then you’ll need to go back and work out the issue that they have the disagreement with. Once that has been resolved, then you move forward once again.

One helpful tool is to occasionally send the other side a letter. In this letter you’ll define where the negotiations are currently at. If the other side disagrees with something that you’ve said in the letter, then you’ll have to go back and resolve that issue. However, if the other side does not respond to your letter then you can assume that they agree with it. If they object to a resolved issue later on, you can tell them that you sent them a letter and because they didn’t object, you had considered this issue to be resolved. This will generally put the issue to rest.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the toughest jobs that we’ll ever face is when we’re called on to have a principled negotiation with someone who has difficulty making decisions. These types of negotiations can go on and on and you may have a hard time reaching a deal with the other side.

People who can’t make decisions will have no problem contradicting themselves. They’ll change their minds constantly. They won’t want to make a final decision. You’ll need to proceed steadily forward. You’ll need to always be documenting where you think that you are in the negotiations. You can use letters to confirm the progress that you believe has been made.

The good news is that even when you find yourself in a negotiation with someone who doesn’t like to make decisions, you can still reach a deal with them. You just need to be willing to take your time and keep moving things forward. You can get even the most reluctant negotiator to create a deal with you that the both of you can live with!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: What can you do to hurry things up when you are negotiating with a person who does not like to make decisions?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Ugg! When you find yourself in a negotiation with a person who is struggling to make a decision no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques you use, you may find yourself wishing that you were anywhere else on the planet! All too often in these types of negotiations, it seems like it can take forever to reach a decision and even then, the other side often comes back and decides to change their mind. Will this negotiation never end?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

rozette overst November 30, 2017 at 6:43 am


I am a woman in her early 70’s who is coming across younger people who have problems making decisions. They make me laugh and my problem is I want to laugh out loud. I am teaching myself to contain my smirk and become a person who is a good listener. I find people don’t want to listen any longer, they want the answer right away. The internet age is pushing these people to hasten their thinking skills.


drjim December 1, 2017 at 11:44 am

Rozette: You are doing the right thing. One point you might want to consider is that nobody like to be laughed at, but we are all willing to laugh along with someone. If you can get the younger people to believe that you find something funny that they might enjoy, feel free to laugh around them…


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