The Best Way To Break A Deadlock: One Step At A Time

You need to keep looking for that hole in the wall
You need to keep looking for that hole in the wall

In almost every negotiation, a deadlock can occur. Deadlocks are simply part of the negotiation definition. When this happens we all have that sinking feeling in our stomach: oh, oh – we’re not going to be able to reach a deal here. In some cases it turns out that we can’t reach a deal; however, during negotiations not every deadlock is fatal – sometimes we can resolve them. Let’s look at one way that you might be able to turn your next deadlock into a deal.

The Problem: When The Other Side Wants Too Much

The reason that you run into a deadlock during a negotiation is not necessarily caused by the negotiation styles or negotiating techniques that the other side is using. Instead, a deadlock can come from a variety of sources. One of the causes of deadlocks that I see over and over again is when the other side of the table wants too much.

When the other side insists on something that is too far away from where you are willing to go, a gap in the negotiations has opened up. If you can’t find a way to bridge this gap, then a deadlock has occurred and there’s a very real possibility that you are not going to be able to reach a deal with the other side.

What’s important to realize in this situation is that both sides of the table still want to reach a deal. The end goal is still shared by everyone. It’s how to get there that is in doubt.

The Solution: Take Small Steps

The solution to breaking this type of deadlock is to take things a little at a time instead of trying to obtain one big compromise. This method of resolving a deadlock is often called the gradual approach.

When the other side wants something that you are unwilling to agree to, such as a $10 increase in something that you are buying from them, the gradual approach may provide a way for both of you to still get what you want. Transforming a $10 immediate price increase into a $2/year price increase over 5 years may be something that you can live with that will still meet the needs of the other side of the table.

The ultimate benefit of the gradual approach is that it provides both sides with more time. More time to both accept and adjust to the new situation. Ultimately this is how both sides can transform a deadlock into a deal.

What All Of This Means For You

As long as you are willing to invest the time and energy that a principled negotiation requires, you sure don’t want the whole thing to end up in a deadlock. However, all too often because of the issues involved, what is being negotiated, and the personalities sitting at the negotiating table, this is what can happen. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If the other side has made a request that is too big of a change for you, don’t give up. Instead start to explore ways that the big change can be introduced slowly. A series of smaller changes may be easier for your side of the table to accept than one single large change.

The job of a negotiator is to find ways to use the negotiation process to reach deal with the other side that both sides can live with. Deadlocks should not be viewed as being the end of a negotiation, but rather as a natural part of the problem resolution process. Use this suggestion the next time that you find yourself just about ready to give up and see if you can reach a deal after all!

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

Question For You: What can you tell the other side that will show them that you are willing to work toward implementing their request over time?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The more complicated a negotiation is, the less likely it is that you’re going to be able to reach a deal with the other side of the table. In many negotiations there are just too many things for both parties to try to keep straight. Add this to all of the different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques being used by both sides and neither side is probably ever going to feel comfortable enough to agree to a deal. However, if you are willing to become a bookkeeper during the negotiations, then you just might be able to find a way to save this negotiation.