KARRASS Effective Negotiating® Tip

Breaking A Negotiating Impasse

by Dr. Chester L. Karrass

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

Too many negotiations break down for the wrong reasons.

Negotiating impasses are not always caused by world-shattering issues or great matters of economics. In my experience, many breakdowns during negotiation are the result of simple things like personality differences, fear of loss-of-face, troubles within the organizations, a poor working relationship with the boss, or the sheer inability to make a decision. Any consideration of how to break a negotiating 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.

I have found several negotiation skills useful in averting or breaking a negotiating impasse:

1. If the negotiating 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 done by postponing some difficult parts of the agreement for renegotiation at a later time when you 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 4 months rather than 3 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 mode 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, percentage of savings, percentage of increased sales, percentage of profit created.

9. Change the base for calculating percentages: a smaller percentage of a larger base or a larger percentage of a smaller but more predictable base may get 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 in which new alternatives can be developed. 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 discussions should an impasse occurs. If you set the stage before the impasse sets in, you can better handle the problem.