Jump-Start Stalled Negotiations

Jeff Cochran


Negotiations deadlock for many reasons. When both sides refuse to budge, it’s time to be creative. Here are some guidelines to get the other side talking again:
Start Over. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev deadlocked during arms talks, Reagan reached across the table and said, “Hello, Mikhail, my name is Ron, and I think it’s time we talked about the arms race.” This broke the tension and led to meaningful discussions.
Keep a Secret. Some negotiations stall because negotiators want to please third parties (such as bosses). If you suspect this, assure the other person that you’ll keep the conversation’s details confidential. The negotiator won’t worry that something he says will get back to the boss.
Recount interests. Don’t talk about positions – focus on each side’s real needs. Say, for example, “It seems you’re most interested in delivery to meet your customers’ timetable.” If the other party agrees, ask, “What do you think are my main interests?” Highlighting the main interests, rather than side issues, helps you create room for new solutions.

Probing Past Positions

Jeff Cochran


Probing Past Positions
Probing effectively does not just work in fictional negotiations. Often, our seminar participants share their own success stories involving their ability to “probe and probe again” to get past the other sides positions and uncover their true interests.

Recently, we heard from a banker who specialized in real estate loans. He had a borrower that did not want to put up collateral for a loan. Rather than battling over the position of whether the borrower should provide the necessary collateral, the banker “probed and probed again” with questions like:

  • “In the past you have always provided collateral, why is it that you do not want to so this time?
  • “Is there something else you could provide us with other than collateral?”
  • “What is it about providing collateral that you do not like?”

In the end, the banker discovered that the borrower objected to putting up collateral because it was costly to do appraisals and other the administrative tasks necessary to provide this type of security. As a result, the bank was able to address the true interests of its customer and by waiving certain requirements, reduce the borrower’s cost of putting up collateral. By using the “probe and probe again” technique, the bank received the security it needed and the borrower was able to lower its expenses. A true WIN-win!

Here are two examples of how “probe and probe again” can help you circumvent common probing roadblocks:

ROADBLOCK: “That is all we have in the budget.”

  • Hypothetically, if you had the money in the budget, would you be willing to pay our price?
  • Have you ever had to get additional funding not in the budget? For what? How?
  • Are there other budgets from other departments that could supplement your budget?
  • When is the budget set? Could we spread payment to next year so we can include it in that budget?

ROADBLOCK: “It is company policy.”

  • Hypothetically, if it were not for the policy, would you be willing to do what we need?
  • What is the reason for the policy?
  • Has there ever been a situation like this before? What did the company do?
  • Has the company ever allowed you to violate any other policy? Why?
  • When was the policy formulated? Has it ever been amended?
  • Who in the organization has the power to override policies?

Negotiating from a Weak Position

Jeff Cochran


By Ron Shapiro
Co-Founder and Chairman of Shapiro Negotiations Institute

Often participants in our programs voice the following frustration: “How can you possibly achieve a Win-Win result when you are in a weak position? When the other side holds all of the cards, isn’t it impossible to be an effective negotiator?” I believe the most effective negotiators are able to use their skills, both when they have the leverage, as well as when they don’t. In order to be more effective when you are in a weak position, I suggest the following:

Check Your Assumptions:
If you perceive yourself to be in a weak position the other side will too. Do yourself a favor and check your assumptions. Do you need to know the other side’s strengths? Very definitely! However, if you take the time to identify their weaknesses you may very well discover strengths in your own position of which you were previously unaware.

Something else to consider…make a list and talk it over with a friend. By discussing an itemized list of your personal strengths and weaknesses (and those of the other side) you will benefit from someone else’s objective input and avoid make incorrect assumptions about your own position.

Expand Your Alternatives:
O.K. What if you check you assumptions and you find out that you are, in fact, in a weak position? What do you do now? I suggest that you immediately look for other alternatives. Is the other side the only person in the world with the product or service that you want? Seldom is there ever a single source supplier for a particular item. It might be more convenient to buy from this person, or maybe the quality is better, but in the end, there are typically many alternatives to choose from, even when your alternatives look limited.

Again, I suggest you write down your possible alternatives before entering the negotiation. This valuable preparation will give you greater confidence to negotiate a fair deal. In the unlikely event that you do not have alternatives, consider finding a way to delay the negotiation until you are able to develop the necessary alternatives to negotiate with greater self-assurance.

Change the Subject:
So now you have found your assumptions to be correct and your alternatives limited. At this point, I suggest that you try to focus the negotiation on issues other than the one in which you find yourself the weakest. What else can be introduced into the negotiation that might provide you with a more beneficial situation?

For example, you might talk about benefits you provided to the other side in the past. You might discuss future opportunities that could exist. You even might inquire as to what else the other side is interested in beyond the deal at hand. Seldom does a transaction consist of only one component. Find out what other items can be brought into the negotiation and see if you can establish an upper hand with regard to these issues.

Find Those Similarly Situated:
If you find yourself in a weak position, there are likely others very similar to you. Seek out these people and see if the sum is greater than the individual parts. Consider class action suits, where an individual claimant is definitely in a weaker position when compared to a large company. But amass several thousand injured parties, and you discover the power of banding together. If you think someone else holds all of the cards, try to find out who else is sitting at the table with you and see if you can work together to achieve your goals.

You can only hope to always find yourself in the position of strength while sitting at the bargaining table. In those inevitable situations where you find yourself in the unenviable weak position implement the exercises outlined above and you will be more effective in the most challenging negotiation situations.