Get Time on Your Side

By — on / Negotiation Skills

When negotiators can’t manage to resolve a final sticking point, time can be one of the best tools at your disposal. How can you use time to move forward?

First, and perhaps most obviously, take a break from talks. That might mean adjourning until the next day, next week, or even longer. In negotiation, a pause gives everyone a chance to cool off and take stock of the situation. During the break, you might plot strategy with your team or talk to a trusted adviser. You might also take the time to list the goals you’ve achieved in the negotiation thus far, suggests John H. Wade in The Negotiator’s Fieldbook (American Bar Association, 2006). If the list is impressive, your remaining goal may seem less significant – and easier to tackle. If the list is disappointing, you might consider whether this is the right deal for you after all. Maybe your last-minute difficulties indicate a larger problem.

Second, if the negotiation has already dragged on too long, you might try imposing a deadline. Setting a final deadline, even an arbitrary one, calls off stalling tactics and increases efficiency, Carnegie Mellon professor Don A. Moore has found in his research. Negotiators ofter fear that a deadline will cause them to concede too much as the clock runs down. But remember that both sides are affected equally by a deadline. Deadlines can spur concessions and creative thinking from both sides – and allow you to move forward.

Third, you can manipulate time to your advantage by agreeing to reach a decision on the final issue but to delay the implementation on that issue until a later date. Consider the case of a couple who, having decided to live in the city after a long debate, now can’t agree on whether to buy or rent. After expanding their time horizon, they might decide to rent for the next two years and buy a place after that. When the impact of a sticky issue is distant, negotiators may be able to evaluate it with less emotion.

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