Getting a tough deal across the line: how to break a deadlock in negotiations

deadlock, deal

What do you do when the ‘best and final offer’ from the other party in a negotiation is a long way from what you find acceptable? Is that the end of the road or is there a better way forward?

Whether you are negotiating with a supplier, settling a dispute, or trying to land a pay rise, the way you deal with a deadlock can make or break the deal. This article will suggest some ways of pushing past an impasse and getting a better deal, without the need to upset everyone involved or end up in court.

Get other people involved

Often the key to breaking a deadlock isn’t in the room at all. The key decision-maker, influencer (or potential influencer) is not involved in the discussions. Who else has an interest in your negotiation? With the right coaxing, what other parties can influence the outcome of your deal?  

Don’t be narrow-minded about the parties involved in your negotiation. Consider other companies involved in the market. Consider the individual’s boss, friends or partner. Often, attitudes change when someone must have their partner sign another mortgage on the family home.

Look at positive leverage

Generally, negotiators think they are in a strong negotiation position if they are prepared to walk away from the negotiating table. If they cannot secure this deal, they have good alternatives. This is often described as good BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Settlement.

Certainly, a solid BATNA gives you the power to walk away and potentially hurt the other party. I would encourage all negotiators to consider their BATNA carefully and do their best to improve it before the negotiation.

But the BATNA is only half of the equation. Rather than focus only on coercive leverage, you should also embrace the power of positive leverage. What can you offer the other party that no one else can? What are the factors that will make them want to do the deal rather than fear not doing the deal? 

Anchors for future deals

Successful deals rarely happen in a vacuum. Most high-value transactions are anchored in earlier successful deals and involve repeat business over many years via many parties.

The reality is, you can win the battle but lose the war by being ruthless in a particular negotiation.  If you are at an impasse, you may be better off in the long term if you use the opportunity to compromise, build trust and get a better deal next time. 

Avoid positional bargaining altogether

Setting out what you want and then offering concessions to the other side can be counterproductive. It assumes every gain for one party will be a loss for the other. In real life, very few situations are really like this. And thinking in those kinds of binaries can blind you to better solutions.

When approaching a high stakes negotiation with a tough opponent don’t start the negotiations by sending a terms sheet. Start by having a discussion about what your business goals are generally and for this deal specifically.  What are your challenges? What is worrying you about the proposed transaction? Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. If you can see a deal as a joint problem to be solved, you will be much more likely to avoid getting stuck at an impasse.