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Updated: 19 Jul 2024

Ways to rationalize a stalled negotiation



There are several strategies and tactics which an effective negotiator can employ to achieve a satisfactory deal in case of a stalled negotiation.

Everything at the office was moving smoothly along until a nasty little hurricane decided to tear a hole in your supply line. In a time of short supply and high demand, your main supplier is sitting across from you at your desk. He is poking his finger in the air for emphasis, while loudly demanding a 20% increase in their delivery costs. He ends his tirade by telling you that he is,‘ Not going to budge.Period!’

Now, you ask yourself, how am I going to deal with this guy when my company can’t afford the 20% he’s demanding? Should you resist as strongly as he is asserting, or is it better to consider strategies or tactics to change the rules of his game?

Negotiations become stalled for a variety of reasons. The people involved present one or more positions from which they seemingly wont budge. Positions and attitudes become entrenched, so that during the ebb and flow of the negotiation process, tempers flare; personalities and egos clash; while harsh and demeaning language becomes the norm. Ultimately perceptions of the opposing party become mutually distorted, each side viewing the other, as being disagreeable and unyielding. At this point, the whole negotiation process is poised on a teetering precipice called ‘failure‘.

How can you, as a negotiator, step up and manage such a daunting challenge and effectively persuade your counterpart to reach a mutually beneficial deal?

The primary means to achieve success is through rational thinking. Lead with your head, and not with your heart. There are several strategies and tactics which an effective negotiator can employ to achieve a satisfactory deal. Here are the strategies.

  1. Reduce the hostility and then you can reduce the tension.
  2. Address your communication problem through listening.
  3. Get control of the issues and make them manageable.
  4. Find common ground whereby you find a basis for agreement.
  5. Enhance your options and seek alternative solutions.

Let’s look at these strategies in greater detail and consider what tactics you can employ, to achieve results in getting the negotiation process back on track.

Reducing the Tension and Hostility

1. Chill the Heat

If heated emotions are dominating the talks, you need to cool things down. This can be something as simple as cracking a joke during a pregnant pause.A well timed joke can sometimes do wonders. What you really need to do is step back from the table and take a break.

Taking a break can mean many things such as refreshments; lunch; answering Mother Nature’s call; or even making an arrangement to take up negotiations at some mutually agreed upon date, or time in the near future.

This is also referred to as a ‘cooling off‘ process. This allows everyone time to temper their emotions. It provides some breathing room for issues to shrink back into their proper perspective. This time away from the grievance, can also allow the parties to discuss the situation with their superiors while permitting both parties to re-evaluate their positions and assimilate any new information that comes to light.

2. Make a Small Concession

A hostile situation can also be addressed simply by making a small but symbolic concession, with the expectation whereby it is implied that the opposing party will reciprocate. Although the proffered concession might be small in context to the larger issues under discussion, it signals a conciliatory attitude which contrasts your opposing positions. This small gesture can be the key which opens many other doors leading to conciliation and agreement.

Address Your Communication Problem

Listen to them – Simply put, this means we can’t hear what our counterpart is saying whilst we’re yelling at them. In the heat of the moment, even the best negotiators can get caught up in escalating their own rhetoric.

Effective communication begins first by active listening. Listen to your counterparts position and then listen to the reasons why they have arrived at this position. You might have to question them to find the reasons, but in the end, you will understand the complete picture because you are now able to clarify your counterparts reasoning.

Having more relevant information, will enable the rational thinking negotiator to seek alternatives which will resolve their mutual problems.

So, when the other party is talking, keep quiet, listen and don’t think about how you intend to respond just yet.

Control the Issues

Clarifying the Problems. Often during the course of a prickly negotiation process, the issues under discussion take on a life of their own. They become blown out of proportion and muddle the perspectives of the parties involved.

The consequence of this irrational escalation frequently results in a stalled negotiation.

One solution is to reduce the conflicting issues into smaller components. It may be better to re-state the areas of conflict. This process is sometimes referred to as the ‘salami tactic’, where you slice the big issues into smaller pieces,so they can be addressed individually. The basis of this idea is to simply define the issues from a different point of view which doesn’t overwhelm the negotiating parties.

For example, if price is an issue, break the whole price down into all the components which make up the total price.Then, address each component individually to find possible means whereby the price might be reduced.

Smaller issues are more manageable. Mountains are best moved one rock at a time.

Finding Common Ground

Working Together

When the negotiation process reaches the high end stage of escalated disagreement, it is not uncommon for the two parties to magnify their differences, while minimizing their similarities. This is clearly an unproductive position.

The rational approach is to seek anything and everything which you share in common with your counterpart. Focus on your common objectives and find mutual agreement on all these points that will lower the rhetoric. It doesn’t matter what common areas you apply, the purpose is that you find those things to which you can both agree.

One possible approach is to simply affirm what you have already agreed to, up to this point in the negotiation. By finding your common ground, you can establish a more amiable dialog which is likely to be conciliatory in nature. This will be more productive in resolving the issues which are now back in their proper perspective.

Options and Alternatives

Finding Solutions

Simply put, there are usually various alternatives and more than one means to solving a negotiation problem. First, you must have all the facts to arrive at rational alternatives. Information is power and is absolutely essential to a savvy negotiator who clearly, must have all the facts on hand to allow any possibility of finding alternative solutions.

Part of this process entails seeking ways to find alternatives to solving your counterpart’s problem as a means to solving your own. If you can provide the other side with options, which are both viable and makes sense to them, then you have solved your own impasse in the process.


It is best to always look at the problem, not just from your own position, but also from the other side. By doing this you can not only acknowledge their viewpoint, but will also see your position through your counterpart’s eyes. With this new perspective, you have a greater ability to sweeten the offer and use many guises to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Stalled negotiations are a challenge which can be overcome. Use your mind to overcome hostility and tough talk. Rationalise the emotions which have brought things to a standstill and use your intelligence and creativity in finding a solution. There’s almost always more than just one solution.

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4 out of 5 from 1 responses
  • 1
    isabelle on

    Positive – I had some of these solution components in mind, however this list gives me a sense of thoroughness, that will help me toward considerin solving the issue instead of giving up.

    Looking forward the opportunity to train with you


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