Deadlines force action. It’s no accident that tax returns are filed on April 15, that Christmas presents are bought on December 24th, or that political lobbyists get bills passed just before adjournment. We accept many deadlines that are part of our daily lives—work starts at 9AM and stops at 5PM, airplanes leave at their scheduled time, bills are due on the 10th of the month.
We respond to many deadlines almost without awareness. Deadlines pressure you into making an either-or choice. You can choose to accept the deadline, or ignore it and live with the consequences.
Be skeptical of deadlines. Sometimes they are real and sometimes they can be negotiated.
Many deadlines are not as real as you might think they are. Hotels will let you stay beyond 1PM without charge. Bids due on the tenth may be accepted on the eleventh. The offer that was to expire on June 1 is usually available on June 2. Newspaper reporters miss their deadlines, but I’ve yet to run into a blank column in a newspaper.
Of course, when you are negotiating, there is a risk in not believing a deadline. The more you know about the other party and their organization the better you will be able to determine if a deadline is real.
Remember—time is power. Most of us go into a negotiation with a self-imposed weakness. We are always aware of the time pressure on ourselves. That knowledge makes us less effective than we could be. What we should concentrate on are the deadlines that constrain the other party. If you have deadlines, there are probably deadlines on the other person. These three questions will help guide you out of the deadline trap:
- What self-imposed or organization-imposed deadlines am I under that make it harder for me to negotiate?
- Are the deadlines imposed on me by myself, or my organization, real? Can I negotiate an extension with my own people?
- What deadlines are putting pressure on the other party and their organization?
Be wary and skeptical when a deadline is impacting your ability to negotiate the best agreement. Time limits have a way of hypnotizing us. We tend to accept them even when we shouldn’t. That’s why you should put a deadline on any offer you put on the table. It may help motivate the other side to make the decision you want.