Many agreements have been stuck like cars in a traffic jam because of objections over minor procedural and technical issues.
17/10/2014Bargaining, Negotiation, Tactics

What to do when negotiations stall?

When negotiations stall

Sometimes negotiations don’t go according to plan. Both sides in negotiation can be subjected to an opponent who seemingly won’t budge or refuses to negotiate, like cars stuck in a traffic jam. This can result in an irreconciliable deadlock with negotiations going nowhere.

A deadlock is a destructive element during negotiations, as it stalls proceedings and draws out the process. Whilst our experience is that movement often happens after there has been no movement (because both sides realise the other is serious about their position), generally you want to keep your negotiations moving along!   

Even worse, deadlocks in negotiations may result in the negotiating parties winding up in court or the resort to industrial action by unions and their members.

Tips on breaking deadlocks

Authors of ‘Breakthrough Bargaining’, Deborah Kolb and Judith Williams, highlighted a few  basic strategies which can be used to break deadlocks in negotiations (see the original article here). 

The first are power moves. Power should be used when the other party doesn’t see the need to negotiate. Power can be addressed by ‘putting a price on the status quo’.

Power moves can additionally be broken into:

-       Incentives – emphasises the value of negotiating e.g. opportunity to create a win-win outcome.

-       Pressure levers – emphasises consequences of stalling e.g. lost income from a  wage increase which won’t be backdated.

-       Enlist allies - turn up the volume on incentives or pressure e.g. using outside people you might have an existing relationship with.

The second type are process moves. Process includes decision-making dynamics which might be overpowering the negotiations. For example, simply taking a break in the negotiations for a while. Have something to eat, a cup of tea or a walk outside to clear your head. Getting away from the negotiating table for a few minutes can work wonders for re-starting dialogue or giving the other side time to alter its negotiation instructions.

The third method are appreciative moves. These might be used when negotiations stall because one party feels it is backed into a corner. An appreciative move could include helping the other party save face and keep the dialogue going.

It also allows you to solicit new perspectives from the other side.  For example, be willing to compromise or offer some leeway on non-essential negotiation topics, which might be really important to the other side. They might return the favour! But don't confuse this with giving ground on major issues in the hope the other side will be generous, but that is another article.

Want more information on breaking deadlocks? We can help! are experts in negotiation for employers. Phone us on 1300 55 66 37 to discuss how we can cost effectively help your negotiating needs.

Image sourced from

GA Conversion Tracking: 

Article Discussion