You did everything right, yet you find yourself at an impasse with the other party. What do you do?

Too many negotiations break down for the wrong reasons. Impasses are not always caused by world shattering issues or great matters of economics. Many breakdowns are the result of simple things like personality differences, fear of loss-of-face, troubles within the organizations, a poor working relationship with the other party, or one party’s sheer inability to make a decision.

Any consideration of how to break an impasse must take into account the human factor. It may not be what you do, but how you do it that becomes the critical factor.

Here are several moves useful in averting or breaking an impasse:

1. If the impasse involves money — offer to change the shape of the money. A larger deposit, a shorter pay period, or a different payment stream works wonders — even when the total amount of money involved is the same.

2. Change a team member or the team leader.

3. Eliminate some of the uncertainty. This can be cone by postponing some difficult parts of the agreement for renegotiation at a later time when you both have more information.

4. Change the scope of risk sharing. A willingness to share unknown losses or gains may restore a lagging discussion.

5. Change the time scale of performance. Maybe it’s OK to complete 60% over four months rather than three months. It might be easier to start slower and still complete the job within the desired timeframe.

6. Assure satisfaction by recommending grievance procedures or guarantees.

7. Move from a competitive posture to a cooperative problem-solving mode. Get engineers involved with engineers, operations people with operations people, and bosses with bosses.

8. Change the type of contract: fixed price, indexed or scaled price, time and materials.

9. Change the base for calculating percentages: a small percentage of a larger base or a larger percentage of a smaller, but more predictable base, may bet things back on track.

10. Create a list of options or alternatives that need to be discussed. Or change the order of discussion.

11. Suggest changes in the specifications or terms.

Impasse breakers work because they re-engage the other party in discussions with his or her organization and team members. These icebreakers help create a climate where new alternatives can be developed and refined. Surprisingly, sometimes the introduction of new alternatives has the effect of making old propositions look better than ever.

Try to pre-plan a face-saving way to reopen discussion should an impasse occur. If you set the stage before the impasse sets in, you can better handle the problem.

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