When Should A Negotiator Walk Away From A Negotiation?

Sometimes it's just not worth it
Sometimes it’s just not worth it
Image Credit: FredR

When we enter into a negotiation, our goal is to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to reach an agreement with the other side. We consider all of the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that we’ll have to use to get the deal that we want. However, there will be times that after we have made our best effort that we come to realize that we are dealing with difficult people and either pride or property is involved. We need to know when a deal just is not going to be possible.

When Should You Walk Away?

Let’s face it – entering into a negotiation is almost like entering into a battle. When we are in the middle of a battle, it can be very difficult for us to recognize when it’s time to walk away from a negotiation dispute – a trap that can squander time, money, and reputations. Labor strikes, price wars and custody battles are just a few of the types of negotiations that often can be traced back to a form of dysfunctional competition. When you view a challenging negotiation as a competition, it can be very difficult to know when you should accept an outcome as final. What we need to understand are the most common traps that spring from this bias. Some advice on how to avoid them would also be nice.

Becoming Too Fixating On Fairness

We need to understand that if we enter into a negotiation with fairness concerns, then these can overshadow objective outcomes in our minds. But, fairness judgments tend to be heavily influenced by our preferred outcome. A good example of this is when two partners are dividing up a business, the partner who invested more money will probably believe they deserves a larger share of the pie – and so will the partner who invested more time. Consciously or not, we determine our preferences and then use this to justify them on the basis of fairness.

We need to realize that this egocentrism is a key contributor to destructive competition. In order to solve this situation whenever you find yourself protesting that another negotiator’s offer just isn’t fair, stop to consider their point of view more thoroughly. Thinking about the other side’s perspective can go a long way toward helping you adjust your expectations. Additionally, ask friends or coworkers for their take on the matter.

Never Focus On Sunk Costs

Negotiating experts caution us to ignore “sunk costs” when making important decisions. The time, money, and effort we’ve already invested in a negotiation are irrelevant to any future investments we might be considering. However, let’s face it – this advice can be tough to follow. If you purchased a house for a great deal of money and the then the housing crisis hit, the amount you have already spent on it will loom large when you are trying to decide on an asking price. If you focus on how much you’ve invested in the house over the years is likely to cause you to set an unrealistically high price. You can solve this problem by reminding yourself that the time, money, and energy you’ve spent on a negotiation should have little bearing on your current decisions.

Learn How To Let Go Psychologically

Let’s face it, the longer a negotiation drags on, the more susceptible disputants are to demonizing each other. What happens is that we develop a desire to punish the other side and it becomes an unhealthy fixation. Once this happens, every communication is met with suspicion. The passion we invest in a dispute can become a sunk cost in its own right. In order to solve this issue, in a negotiation, as in other spheres of life, it can be difficult to recognize when the pursuit of a goal becomes a destructive obsession. In order to get a better perspective on what is currently going on, discussions with trusted counselors can help you recognize when it’s time to let go.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to get the deal that we want to get out of our next principled negotiation, we need to be willing to invest ourselves in making it happen. However, what can happen all too easily is that we find ourselves becoming too invested in a negotiation and our desire to reach a deal with the other side. There will be times that a negotiation becomes unwinnable and we may have to simply walk away without a deal. Knowing when this is happening is a key skill that we all have to have.

The problem that we face as negotiators is that we can enter into a negotiation where we are facing dysfunctional competition. We struggle to know when we should accept an outcome as being the final word. We can become too fixated on fairness. If we view the other side’s offer as being not fair, we need to see outside counsel in order to get a better perspective. We can also start to focus on how much we have already invested in a negotiation and become unwilling to walk away. We need to be able to view the time, energy, and effort that we have invested as being sunk costs and not value them. Learning how to let go psychologically is very hard. We may want to punish the other side. Once again, seeking an outside opinion might be what we need in order to get a good understanding of what is going on.

The desire to reach a satisfactory deal with the other side is what drives most negotiations. However, we need to understand that we will not always be able to be successful in every negotiation. What this means is that we need to develop the skills that will be required in order to determine when it will not be possible to get what we want or need from a negotiation. When this happens, it may be best of we just walk away. Knowing when to do this is an important skill that every negotiator needs to take the time to develop.

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

Question For You: Do you think that you should ever return to the table after having walked away?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we enter into a negotiation, we bring to the table our own particular style of negotiating with its associated negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. How the negotiation turns out may at least in some part be based on our style. What this means is that we need to make sure that we are both aware of what our negotiating style is and what other styles are available to us. Understanding your negotiating style is the key to setting negotiation goals that you can achieve.