Knowing When It's Time to Walk-Not Talk

If there's no point in negotiating with someone, when its obvious there's no room for further talk, then the best solution is to simply pack-up and take a walk..

"A long dispute means both parties are wrong." Voltaire

Knowing when and how to negotiate is one thing. Knowing when not to negotiate at all, is an altogether different matter. Every savvy negotiator is aware that there are times to break off the talks for now, in order to enhance the talks later. Reasons could include a cooling off process or to re-evaluate new information.

However, there are other thorny conditions which can crop up when the circumstances compel you to not negotiate at all. You might be better off to zipper your mouth and do nothing, or to permanently walk away. The reasons can be either tactical or part of your overall strategy. There are times when it would be just plain dumb to do otherwise.

Let's look at the types of non-negotiation in some detail.

Avoidance

Anyone who's been in the corporate sand box long enough, has come across the manager who has adopted the 'ostrich' style of management. If they ignore the problem long enough, it will go away. We all know this doesn't work. The problem doesn't conveniently disappear; it comes back to haunt you like that pesky ghost in Dickens', Christmas Carol'.

Yet, there are other occasions when avoiding a situation will work to your advantage as a negotiator. The manner in which you approach each situation will revolve around the circumstances. Here are some situations when it's best to simply avoid entering into a negotiation.

  • Don't need to care - When the outcome is of little importance, why bother at all? If there are no consequences of any import to concern you, then be quiet. Do nothing. You don't have to negotiate something which has little or no value.
  • Lose more than you gain - This boils down to figuring out what the costs are going to mean to you, at the end of it all. If getting involved with talks is sure to cost you more by becoming involved, then avoid them. There's no point to involving yourself in a negotiation which puts your balance sheet in the red.
  • Don't make a mountain out of a molehill - Small issues may unnecessarily become big issues. They should be addressed in their appropriate venues at the appropriate times. What about the bigger issues down the road? If a union member has a grievance, the situation might warrant that it's better to avoid addressing the grievance right away, particularly if the grievance will play a part in the collective bargaining talks later on. Choosing which battle to fight and when, can be very relevant to your strategy or tactics.
  • Better Alternative - If your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) far surpasses your need to negotiate, then don't negotiate. Having a superior BATNA that exceeds even the best possible outcome of any negotiation scenario, is simply a waste of time.

Yielding

You simply give up. There are a number of reasons why this might be the smarter option, even though the very concept of surrender appears unthinkable. One always has to look at the whole picture. Also, the tactic of yielding something now, could result in something positive later.

Here are some instances to consider.

  • To err is divine - But only when you own up to it. Admitting you were wrong is an unpleasant task, but oft times it can be positive. A manager who admits to a mistake, could end up gaining greater overall respect and loyalty from their employees. It might also lead to enhanced productivity and a better working environment. By yielding to an error in judgement now, you achieve more in the long term.
  • The customer's always right - We all know that's not always true, but if you want to stay in business, you sometimes have to grin and bear it. Happy clients are repeat clients. A contractor, who admits to a mistake and corrects the problem, is more likely to have the client return as a repeat customer. Sometimes it is simply better to yield, in order to preserve the relationship. Ask any married couple.
  • A brighter future - Always look down the road. Be smart when you pick your fights. Yielding on a smaller issue now, might bring you dividends on a more important issue later on. It's like sacrificing a pawn in chess to obtain a better position.
  • No win - Simply means you can't win. It happens. So, how can this be a better option? Let's take a liability lawsuit for example, where you are being sued. You know you have no chance of winning an expensive court battle. Wouldn't it be better to settle out of court? Would it make sense to engage in a protracted and expensive legal battle in the court system? By settling out of court, you save both time and probably a lot more money.

Walking Away

There will be times when your counterpart is simply going to drive you away from the table, and you will have no desire to return. This means a permanent cessation of talks. There are several reasons to do so.

  • Cheaters never prosper - Let's face the ugly truth. Not everyone plays by the rules. Unethical behaviour lurks beneath the surface of the corporate world. People lie, mislead, use emotional buttons like threats, abuse, or other means to win an advantage at all costs. When faced with such an unsavoury state of affairs of this nature, you have to seriously question whether you want to do business with someone of this ilk. If you have other alternatives, you might want to consider exiting the talks, rather than endure the hassle.
  • Hardball - Some people just won't give you a centimetre, let alone an inch. Hard bargaining tactics can drive you to distraction. Every reasonable proposition is met with a demand for another concession, and without them offering or giving anything in return. Or, you find yourself hitting a dead end despite every attempt to reach a compromise. When you ask yourself whether the price is worth the cost, and the resulting answer is, 'No Way!' it is then time to walk away.
  • Big BATNA - If your best alternative is superior to anything the negotiation might yield, and is clearly a no-brainer situation, use your "walk away" alternative instead.

The Big Chill

There are some dispute mechanisms which can actually deter parties from negotiating. For example, one of the parties might engage in stonewalling tactics from the moment you sit down at the table. A looming date of arbitration is a specific example which deliberately creates pressure to delay the negotiation, to gain a tactical advantage. The pressure of the diminishing deadline might cause one of the parties to fold, or lose their advantage, particularly if they are in the weaker position.

There can be political reasons for delaying negotiations. There may also be self serving professional reasons to deliberately stall talks. This scenario frequently occurs when one or both parties have a responsibility to other constituents. A union rep for example, may decline to cede concessions which might be unpopular to union members. By delaying or 'chilling' the negotiations, the rep has successfully stalled the negotiation, until the contract talks end up in the lap of an arbitrator. Basically, the union rep would now be absolved of responsibility for any unpopular decisions reached by the arbitrator. Slick tactic, eh?

Summary

'Don't beat a dead horse with a stick!' This gruesome but practical phrase is the conclusion which springs to this twisted writers mind. If there's no point in negotiating with someone, then the best solution is to simply pack up the briefcase and take a walk, because it's obvious there's no room for further talk.

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