How can you avoid the dreaded deadlock in negotiations?

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Deadlock: Planetary Conquest
Deadlock: Planetary Conquest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday after supper I went to a local neighbourhood pub in central Johannesburg and was surprised to see so many couples kissing. These weren’t people in their early 20s but couples close to the halfway mark in years.

I’m not sure if it was the warm inside contrasted against the cold highveld temperature outside that welcomed Eros into the midst of these late evening lovers. It could have been the free-flowing friendly atmosphere. All the heady affects of Bacchus’s gifts of wine and spirits. Who knows? It may have been the sensuous music oozing through the overhead speakers at just the right level.

But one thing was certain. These loving couples were not strangers. They had come there to relax, let off their tension from the working week and were out to enjoy themselves.

One of the biggest mistakes negotiators, whether small business owners or company representatives, make is to not build common ground before they begin to discuss the issues tabled on the negotiating agenda.

I know what it’s like. You’re on the other side of the table facing the person who may have previously been rude to you. Or you finally come to the negotiation table after bitter quarrels with the opposing side.

You can find common ground in numerous ways. Acknowledging something about the other side without sounding sucky. Just be sincere. It’s difficult, I know. But even in the most conflict ridden of situations you can find common interest otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting across the table.

Once the negotiation is underway, a lot of behaviours can lead to deadlock:

1 A confrontational, attacking approach
2 Being a taker (not giving even the smallest concession). Negotiation is about exchange: If you give me this, I will consider this
3 Making tentative proposals that only consider your interest
4 Not making small exchanges or trades early in the negotiation but going straight into the big, hot and sticky issues
5 Using tactics and ploys that undermine your credibility and commitment to reaching agreement

Deadlocks or stalemates occur all the time. Just look at your newspaper: wage negotiations, merger talks, landlords who want to show you the door. You can deliberately deadlock a negotiation to bring the other side to their senses – but not to their knees. Hard bargaining with fair and realistic exchanges more than anything else helps avoid deadlock.

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