When Deadlocked, Try To Move From Little To Big (Or Big To Little)

by drjim on January 25, 2013

Image Credit Sometimes you have to deal with the small issues, not the big ones

Sometimes you have to deal with the small issues, not the big ones

As negotiators we all know what it feels like to run into a brick wall during the negotiation process. We may be involved in negotiations and it just feels like no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques we use, we are getting nowhere fast. Every issue that we pick up and try to negotiate with the other side seems to just end up with us agreeing to disagree. Is this a hopeless case – according to the negotiation definition are we deadlocked? It turns out that there may be a way out of this jam. What you are going to need to do is to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Moving From The Little Picture To The Big Picture (or Visa Versa)

When we run into the negotiating problem where every individual issue that we attempt to discuss with the other side only leads to an impasse, then we need to take a step back. The problem here might not be what is being negotiated , but rather it might be a cultural one.

American negotiators have a tendency to like to work their negotiations from the bottom up. What this means is that we like to pick an issue, reach an agreement on it, and then pick another issue and repeat the process. Our thinking is that if both sides can reach agreements on all of the individual issues, then we’ll have reached an agreement on the overall issue.

Where this process breaks down is when we find that we can’t reach an agreement on one or more of the individual issues. All too often, this causes us to become confused – what to do now?

It turns out that the answer to this question is well known by both French and Chinese negotiators. They prefer to negotiate from the top down. This means that they get both sides to agree that they want a deal and what the deal would look like. Their thinking is that with this type of agreement, then all of the details of the negotiation will “fall into place”.

Why This Technique Works So Well

When trying to reach agreement on the details of a negotiation, if that isn’t working out for you then move to your discussions to the deal as a whole. Likewise, if you are talking about the whole deal and the discussions are going nowhere, then shift your discussion to talking about details.

The reason that this technique can work so well for you is that it acts almost as a “reset” for the participants. Whichever side has been saying “no” to the discussions so far is no longer weighed down by their past positions because they now have started a “new” negotiation.

If you were getting nowhere in discussing the details of the deal, then if you pop the discussion up and start to talk about the deal as whole then you may very quickly discover that both sides are interested in reaching a deal. If this is true, then it’s going to make resolving those individual issues that much easier.

Likewise, if you’ve been unable to come to an agreement on the deal as a whole, taking the time to discuss some or all of the details of the deal may show you that you are already closely aligned and that reaching a deal may not be that difficult to do.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators, the one thing that we don’t want to do is to get hung up in a deadlock situation. This represents everything that we don’t want as the result of conducting a principled negotiation: wasted time and no deal to show for it. Instead, we always want to find a way to reach a deal with the other side of the table.

When we run into an impasse with the other side where no matter which issue we discuss with them, we are unable to reach an agreement, there is another way. By changing the discussion to talk about the deal as a whole instead of the individual parts can sometimes allow us to reach that deal that looked too far away at one point in time.

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

Question For You: If you do start to talk about the deal as a whole, when would be the correct time to switch back to talking about details?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When is a negotiation over? Is it when you have a verbal agreement with the other side of the table on all of the major issues? Probably not. In most cases, we don’t consider a negotiation to be complete until we’ve been able to write down just exactly what we’ve both agreed to and both sides accept what has been written down. However, this is exactly when issues start to show up and everything seems to start to fall apart…

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