Resolving Deadlock in Negotiation

Just like conflict, disagreement is a fact of life. And this is especially true in the context of negotiation. In simple terms, negotiation is a discussion intended to produce an agreement. It can also be defined as an attempt to satisfy our needs when somebody else controls what we want.

When different parties are trying to reach a mutually agreeable settlement on an issue, it is quite expected that each party will make efforts to sway the agreement in the direction that favours their position and interests even if it means leaving the other party with the shorter end of the stick. It is therefore the responsibility of the negotiator to steer the negotiation process in such a way as to encourage a fair and balanced consideration of interests towards reaching a mutually agreeable settlement.

However, it can sometimes be very difficult to reach a mutually agreeable settlement especially when parties are too entrenched in their interests to consider shifting grounds or when a party is making requests that the other party considers unreasonable. Such situation stalls the negotiation process, making it impossible to proceed until the deadlock is resolved. It is therefore important for the negotiator to have the needed dose of patience, strength and communication skills to push past the seeming animosity between the negotiating parties so they can reach a mutually agreeable settlement.

The following strategies highlight what the negotiator can do to achieve this.

Encourage principled negotiation
Most negotiations usually begin on a positional note with each party insisting on the best or most extreme position on what it demands or offers. Positional bargaining is competitive. It usually involves pushing one’s way by using all sorts of devious tactics like withholding useful information, posturing, issuing threats and making little or no concessions. Principled negotiation, on the other hand, is cooperative or collaborative. It encourages problem solving by basing decision making on principles and objective standards as opposed to impulsive positions.

Defer discussions
Sometimes people need time to reconsider an issue, form new associations and gain fresh perspectives. If the deadlock is on a particular issue, you can say something like, “Let’s leave this for now and continue with other issues. We’ll come back to it after reaching agreement on the other matters.” One advantage of this strategy is that reaching an agreement on easier aspects of the dispute conditions the parties to be more favourably disposed towards settling the seemingly difficult matters. In a situation where no progress can be made at all, take a break from the entire negotiation process. Give parties time to reassess the situation and allow emotions to cool.

Get more information
Deadlock can often be a result of not having sufficient information. By encouraging parties to freely discuss and provide information to explain their stance, you can improve communication and raise the level of trust which will make it easier to move past the deadlock continue the negotiation process. It is however also important to acknowledge the risk of giving out too much information that may give one party undue advantage over the other.

Explore new solution pathways
Parties should be encouraged to explore different routes of resolving an issue while retaining their ultimate goal. That means they protect their desired solution but are willing to consider alternative routes or different scenarios for reaching it. This is easier when each party makes a genuine attempt to put themselves in the other party’s shoes.

Change the negotiators
In some cases, it may be necessary to bring in new mediators who are able to assess the situation from a fresh perspective, untainted by previous knowledge of the dispute. This is especially useful in a situation where the negotiation process has dragged over a long period of time with the negotiators insisting on a fixed perspective.

Do more with less
Issues in a negotiation will not always be of equal value to both parties. Sometimes, a solution that costs one party little or nothing may be of tremendous value to the other party. For example, in matters of payment settlement, one party might be able to offer a service that the other party considers very valuable, in lieu of the financial implications of the settlement. You could also have a dispute where simply saying “sorry” – which may not cost anything to give – can mean so much to the other party. The negotiator should help the parties take advantage of such opportunities for achieving significant progress without necessarily giving much.

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