Negotiating in Life , Planning for Negotiations December 15, 2009

Can a negotiation go too long?

Business negotiations can be short when agreement is reached quickly. Other negotiations can be drawn out, with both sides making small concessions but not reaching agreement...

Business negotiations can be short when agreement is reached quickly. Other negotiations can be drawn out, with both sides making small concessions but not reaching agreement. How long can a negotiation last before it is too long?

It is obvious that the more complex the issues being negotiated are, the longer the negotiation is going to last. The same holds true when issues are highly contentious or polarizing since more ground will have to be covered to bring both sides closer to agreement.

Some negotiators use time to control the negotiation. They test patience to see if they can reach an agreement that is favorable to them. Some negotiators use the “stretchout” maneuver, which involves extending the negotiations over a long period to be able to reveal some uncertainties (e.g. government decisions or new pricing structures) that could affect the negotiation outcome.

Deadlines may be an effective tool to limit the length of a negotiation. By imposing a deadline for decision, an agreement may be reached successfully. However, as with any tactic, deadlines do not always work and they are not always respected.

In labor negotiations, unions may have rules to control the length of the discussions. For instance, the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) has made the following rule about length:

“After the first bargaining session, parties have 150 days to exchange proposals. If both parties agree, this period may be shortened or extended. Either party may ask for a state-appointed mediator at the end of this period. The parties are required to spend 15 days in mediation. Either party can then declare impasse. “
From the OSBA site here:

There are some dangers in having negotiations go too long:

* Negotiators may grow fatigued and disinterested
* More issues may be introduced than were originally on the table
* Patience may be tested causing decisions that may not otherwise have been reached

On the other hand, some issues are too complex and really do require lengthy discussions. Currently we see the climate negotiations going on in Copenhagen. With many parties involved, and many issues at hand, we can expect those negotiations to be ongoing.

When do you think a negotiation has gone too long?
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