Four Strategies for Breaking the Impasse in Negotiations
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Here are next steps when negotiations stall and quitting is not an option.

I am an experienced negotiator.  I negotiate business deals all the time. I have tried everything… so why can’t I strike a deal this time?

If you are a negotiator, you have probably had a version of this conversation with yourself.

Likely more than once. Sometimes, you will walk away from a deal (if you can) but if you are negotiating about a potential claim that could end up in Court (or Arbitration), you may not be able to walk away.

So what do you do if you hit a wall in your negotiations and quitting is not an option?

Here are four recommendations for successful negotiations:

  1. Dig deeper

A lot of negotiators approach a negotiation from a place of power in pursuit of a deal that will satisfy their own interests without much concern for the interests of the party or parties on the other side.

Where interests are perfectly aligned, and the power dynamics are in your favor, that approach might work. However, if the negotiation is more complicated you will need to dig deeper:

  • Identify the essential components of the deal for you.
  • Identify your best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

Then put yourself in the other parties’ shoes and do the same thing.  Better yet, if the dialogue is open and honest, ask them!

This exercise should help you identify the scope of a potential resolution and give you a path (or a few paths) to a negotiated resolution.

  1. Brainstorm

Host a good old-fashioned brainstorming session.

You can do this by yourself, with your colleagues or advisors, and even with the other party if the dynamics are collaborative. Grab a piece of paper, flipchart, or white board and have one person write down every possible way of reaching an agreement.

Before you start, make sure the rules are clear – all ideas will be thrown out no matter how crazy or untenable and everyone reserves the right to reject those ideas later but you need as many options as possible.

And Go!

Think outside the box and don’t limit your responses.

This is the key to a successful brainstorm. Even if it sounds like a crazy option, throw it out there. You can always discard it later. The more options you can generate, the better.

The benefit of this exercise is that it will get ideas and conversations flowing again and might propel parties toward more fruitful negotiation and resolution.

  1. Switch things up

If the dynamics between the parties negotiating are not constructive, i.e., the bulls have locked horns, then consider switching things up.

Try bringing in a different person to negotiate on your behalf – that could be someone else at your business, an in-house attorney, or even an outside counsel. Sometimes the simplest change in parties can help propel the negotiations because of the change in dynamics and negotiating styles.

Another option is to change the setting.

Have you been exclusively negotiating by email? Try phone. Phone only? Meet in person. Stuck in a conference room? Take a walk.

Changing the dynamics can change the results.

  1. Bring in a pro

If all else fails and you see no way to reach an agreement, but you can’t just walk away (perhaps you are being threatened with legal action), then you might consider bringing in a third-party neutral to facilitate the negotiation.

Mediators work with all parties to a dispute to help them explore their respective interests, generate options for resolution, and facilitate negotiations with the goal of reaching an agreement.

Sometimes hearing from a third-party, and the change in the dynamics that comes from their involvement, can go a long way towards reaching an agreement.

Importantly, mediators are not judges, they do not have the power to make any decisions on your behalf, and they are typically bound by confidentiality, which you don’t necessarily have the benefit of the dispute ends up in Court.


No matter what the nature of your dispute or negotiation is, there is a mediator out there that can help.

Mediators come in all flavors: commercial/business, labor/employment, family/divorce, You name it they are out there. So next time you find yourself wondering how to make a deal happen when all parties are locked into their respective positions – consider finding an excellent mediator to get you across the finish line.

Related content:

Practical Guidelines for Negotiating Anything

Negotiating and Surviving the Business Deal of a Lifetime:  A Legal and Practical Approach Part III

25 Years of Deal Making Lessons – An investment Banker’s Perspective

Mergers & Acquisitions Integrate or Wait? That Is the Question (Part II)


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