How to Deal with Negotiation Stalemate With These 9 Tactics

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Finding Yourself in a Negotiation Stalemate You Wonder ‘How Did I Get Here?’…

…when it all started swimmingly, and yet you are here and the emotions have won the day. But all is not lost because there are still a bunch of things you can try.

1. Adjourn – Take a Break

The negotiation has likely become emotional and logic has partly taken a backseat and now the objectives are win:lose on both sides. ‘I suggest a break – is that good with you? 15-minutes?’. These types of words will normally be met with great respect as the other side will probably relish the idea of a break.

The challenge is to use those 15-minutes effectively. Yes, I understand that you want to grab a coffee and stretch your legs – don’t. Either by yourself, or with your colleagues, gather your thoughts and start with the main question. ‘How do we approach this differently?’, and work at this in the precious few minutes that you have to break free of the negotiation stalemate.

2. Get a New Perspective

Share the details of the negotiation with the team ‘back at the ranch’ and ask them what they would do. They will hopefully provide a new perspective, which you can consider using before you enter the next phase of the negotiation.

As you share try not to bring them ‘into your pit’ so that they have no way out, as you feel you do not. Instead, share with them what has happened more objectively than emotionally. This way, rather than them ending up in the same pit as you with the same perspective, they can offer a perspective that you cannot see.

3. Offer a Small Concession

In our negotiation training, we teach ‘No Free Fish’, which is all about not conceding without getting anything back. On this occasion a small concession might just grease the negotiation engine to get it to turn over. Make sure that it is a small concession and is not followed up with another. Only one small concession should be given which hopefully will change the status of the negotiation.

Ensure that you make it known with the other party that you are doing this in the spirit of working together because you want to see both parties arrive at an agreement that is a win:win.

Hand drawn fish with a Red Cross through it represents no free fish
No free fish in your negotiations!


4. Change the Venue

We get into routines, even if we have only been there a few times. Your brain might be saying to you, ‘Ah, this is where I sit and he sits there and we argue about those details of the deliveries’. Changing the venue, or even the room, or maybe just taking a part of the negotiation to getting a coffee could help both parties to break the routine and see things differently.

5. Share Additional Information

As we know in negotiation information is key. This is why the second stage – the explore stage – is so vital, yet many amateur negotiators skip this stage and go straight to stage 3 – proposal, and then find themselves in negotiation stalemate. Better to know what the other party wants, and try to create a proposal that meets some of what they want, than not know and spend forever readjusting your proposal.

The information you share, similar to making a small concession, should be carried out with the objective of moving the negotiation forward. The information should help the other party to reply, aiding progression. Think ahead beyond what information you offer to how you believe they will reply, and assess whether you think that reply helps the negotiation to progress. If it doesn’t, offer another piece of information.

6. Problem Solve It

Sometimes a negotiation can triumph through solving a problem together. Be open with the other party that you’d like to suspend the negotiation for a little while and instead try to problem solve the issue together. Using problem solving tools like random word, mathstorming, or fish boning may help find a solution that is not born from a negotiation but derived from both parties seeking to solve it through problem solving. Ask the other party what problem solving techniques they know and if all else fails, google search them together and agree to try 3.

7. Change the Team

As hard as it is to admit defeat, doing that and bringing in a new negotiator, or a new team, might be the only way forward. Be careful that if the replacement/s are more senior that you may well lose credibility because you could not negotiate to a conclusion. It is a tough choice and you have to consider whether you are able to break the negotiation stalemate.

8. Both Parties Failing – ‘How Would That Look?’

Share with the other party how it would look like if they both don’t reach an agreement. Paint a picture of both parties returning to their companies empty handed, unable to have reach an agreement. ‘Two companies that have worked together for years cannot find a way through. Two intelligent people both wanting the best for themselves, yet were not bright enough to identify a route that both parties could agree. Failing. Personally, I do not want this. How about you?’.

9. ‘What If’ Scenarios to Break the Negotiation Stalemate

‘What If’ scenarios are very useful for trying to break the chains of stalemate. Be open with the other party that you think that the negotiation has reached a stalemate and invite them to share their perspective. If both parties agree that is a good step forward because it is an agreement, probably the first in a while, and then suggest that you both take turns with What If scenarios.

What If on two wooden dice
Utilise the ‘What Ifs’


Agree the 3 rules of What If; 1. They must be met positively, even if they are rejected, 2. Take turns, and 3. Do this for 20-minutes. Onc you have agreement, invite the other party to share their first what if and to set the scene, reply as positively as you can, listening intently, seeking clarity, and writing it on your pad to consider later.

Use a single negotiation stalemate technique from above or a combination to break free from your negotiation stalemate. Remember that emotion can be the enemy of progress. Good luck!

Action: For even more useful content on negotiations, check out our ultimate guide on negotiation skills.

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Negotiation Tactics Articles and ContentNegotiation Techniques

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