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February 20, 2012

Unlocking Deadlocks

SNI's Philosophy

Jeff Cochran

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The room is dark and hazy.  The man across the table from you puffs on his cigar.  A cloud of smoke slowly plumes out of his mouth and rises towards the low-hanging overhead light above the table before dissipating into the air.  A small bead of sweat begins to trickle down your forehead.  Without unlocking your eyes from his, you slide a piece of paper across the table with another new proposal.  He grabs the paper and stares back at you.  The small bead of sweat finally slides down your face and drops onto your shirt.

Okay, maybe your negotiation is not this dramatic or intense.  Still, a deadlocked negotiation can be a difficult thing to get around.  Perhaps you can’t agree on the price or timing.  Maybe it’s an issue of control.  Whatever it is, a new approach needs to be taken so that the deadlock can be broken and a deal can be reached.   So how do you do this?

Change Locations

If you’ve been meeting at your office, offer to go to theirs.  A change in scenery can be good for both parties.  Sometimes a setting can be intimidating, stifling, stale, or negative.  Staring at the same walls can become boring.  Imagination and energies can wane.  Maybe the negotiators have begun to subconsciously associate the surroundings with a lack of progress.  By switching locations, both parties get a new perspective.  They’ll be in a different room, in a different seat, facing a new direction.  It may not seem logical, but attitudes can shift with locales.

Change Negotiators

Maybe you’re the problem.  It may not mean that you’re negotiating poorly, but that the other party isn’t hearing you anymore.  (You may be guilty of the same thing in reverse).  They are frustrated with how the negotiation has gone and may have tuned
you out.   Instead of being stuck at this impasse, bring in a substitute.  Let your partner or associate take over.  A fresh face with a new style can jump-start the stalled negotiation.

Call in a Mediator

This is a more dramatic suggestion to changing negotiators.  If both sides are stuck without a way out, a mediator may be the best option.  This person must be an expert in negotiations, but not necessarily in the specific topic.  They only need to understand the fundamentals well enough to facilitate progress.  The mediator does not need to get bogged down with the small details—something that has probably happened to both sides.  Instead, the mediator should be focused on the broad goals of the deal.

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