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Unsticking a Stuck Negotiation

Simon Carkeek
230403 Unstuck
© Scotwork NA

I just returned from a short trip to the UK, where it feels like half the country is on strike. My train from London to Bristol was canceled due to a strike, forcing me to get a taxi back to Heathrow so that I could hire a car instead! I stayed with my brother, and when I woke up late the next day (jet lag), I was surprised to find my sister-in-law and two nephews still at home. She’s a teacher, and her union had a dispute that closed schools all over the country for the day.

Strikes are a valid tactic used by labor unions in negotiations. However, like any tactic, if it doesn’t get results, a negotiation can stall or wind up in a complete deadlock. If you find yourself stalled or in deadlock, you need to get unstuck. 

I was recently working with a client here in the US who’d reached a stalemate with one of their key customers. What had been a long and positive relationship had quickly deteriorated. My client’s company had been acquired, and the new owners mandated a revised pricing model across the whole business. Suddenly subject to a price increase, the customer dug their heels in and refused, citing terms already agreed to. 

I asked my client if there were any circumstances where the customer could keep the current rate until the contract expired. They said if the customer agreed to move to a lower service level, they may be able to push it through, but they had no idea if the customer would agree. After analyzing the account, my client realized that the customer wasn’t using anything close to the services included at their level. In fact, the lower level would be more than enough for their needs.

However, when my client called the customer to give them the good news, they continued to push back. By probing their response, my client learned what was really important: The customer was concerned about the optics. Agreeing to a lower service level would look like they had conceded too much. After some thought, my client proposed maintaining the service level (the optics) but amending the deliverables to align them with their actual needs. This allowed the customer to retain the same price, continue with the services they were using, and, importantly, save face internally. 

So, if you find yourself deadlocked or stalled in a negotiation, try the following:

  1. Get perspective. Sometimes we’re so close to a negotiation that we can’t see a path forward. Discuss the situation with a colleague or trusted advisor (like Scotwork!) to gain an outsider’s point of view. 
  2. Identify the real cause of the deadlock. By getting to the root of the issue, you can then start to work on finding a solution that addresses everyone's needs and concerns. 
  3. Look for creative solutions. This might involve coming up with new options or exploring alternative approaches that had not been considered before. 

And let’s hope that the government and unions in the UK are also able to find a way through their impasse before too long. Otherwise, I think I’ll hold off going back to the motherland again for a while!

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