negotiating past impasse

"The negotiation," say seasoned negotiators, "does not begin until the parties reach impasse."

I always liked this phrase. It implies the kind of hard-headed can-do attitude I'd seek out in my own negotiation partner. It is resonant of those early injunctions of the trial attorneys who trained me.

Impasse - is it real or is it fake?

I have to admit that my understanding of the impasse busting phrase took a while to sneak up on me. Having negotiated for a living for more than five years now, its meaning is obvious.


Until the parties stop fooling around in the far reaches of their respective positions (I'm right/you're wrong; I'm deserving/you're not/my ideas are good/yours bad) and enter the Zone of Possible Agreement, their bargaining moves aren't of any real consequence. It is only when they near their respective bottom lines -- when they are a "hard" one hundred thousand or a genuine few million dollars apart -- that the real negotiation begins.

Though I do have a few illustrative impasse breaking stories, right now I'm simply going to list some of the winning integrative bargaining strategies that Professor Thompson, author of The Heart and Mind of the Negotiator, recommends. Although these strategies can be deployed at the commencement of your negotiation, they are most useful when a truly non-negotiable impasse seems likely.

          1. Build trust and share information. This does not mean that you reveal your reservation price or your negotiation strategy. It does mean that you share your preferences and priorities across all negotiation issues.

          2. Ask diagnostic questions. Dr. Thompson tells us that only seven percent of negotiators seek information that would reveal the other parties' true goals and aspirations when it would be dramatically helpful to do so. Ask open-ended questions to ascertain the interests your bargaining partner wants to serve by negotiating a deal with you.

          3. Unbundle the issues. Though many business people will tell you that their bargaining partner is only interested in money, there are usually untapped resources in every commercial negotiation, including potential future business opportunities, the exchange of assets that may be more valuable to one party than the other and competitive market advantages to be traded or synergized. Research shows that fairness and respect also play an important role in every negotiation.  Respect = money.  Fairness = money.  Would you pay good money not to have to have dinner with someone?  Would you pay good money to spend a few hours in someone else's company?  You see what I mean.  Human relationship counts.

          4. Make Package Deals rather than Single-Issue Offers. This strategy is particularly helpful where the zone of possible agreement is narrow and trade-offs necessary to reach resolution.

          5. Make Multiple Offers Simultaneously. Professor Thompson recommends presenting at least two proposals that are of equal value to the offeror at the same time. Among many other advantages, this strategy can give you the substantial advantage of responding to counter-offers without having to make a concession.

Go get 'em ladies!  The world is your oyster.