Putting on the brakes: Negotiation via procrastination

We’ve all heard Ben Franklin’s advice to never “put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” And many of us probably even try to follow that advice. But is procrastination always bad? Not necessarily in negotiation. Indeed, it’s often flat-out strategic to halt negotiations rather than resolve them right now.

Be it with kids or coworkers, most of us encounter differences of opinion daily. What if we resisted our natural tendency to fight through these differences, and instead just waited? Facing differences of opinion, procrastination can often make life more negotiable.

Why? Consider the following five arguments for procrastination:

  1. They may forget about it: Many disputes can seem earth-shaking in the moment but forgettable soon after. Rather than fight about earth-shaking issues today, why not wait for them to fade away tomorrow? So when your three-year old absolutely insists on applying an assortment of expensive Doc McStuffins Band-Aids to a non-existent cut (not that mine has ever done that), you might suggest we sort it out after dinner, by which point you’re sure she won’t give a rat’s behind about Doc McStuffins.
  2. You may learn more: Many business negotiations get hung up by differing expectations about the future. Will the amazing new leptons we’re selling command the 50% market share we claim (thereby justifying our high price)? Or the 10% market share you claim (thereby requiring a discount)? We could fight through it. But we might as well agree to see how the leptons are doing in six months, then settle our accounts based on what we learn.
  3. Their emotions will cool: The two arguments above emphasize what’s going on in our heads while disputing, but negotiations often involve our hearts too. The basic reason for a dispute may be no particularly good reason at all: elevated emotions. The nice thing about emotions, though, is that they tend to fade with time. You might want to give them some, in hopes that the sands of time will wash away their affect (even if they don’t forget about the issue itself).
  4. Your emotions will cool: It’s easy to blame our irrational counterparts for their uncontrollable emotions, but the truth is that one person’s emotions often spill over into the other person’s emotions. So even if we bring a rational mind to such matters, our own emotions may, we must admit, occasionally flare. In these situations, Thomas Jefferson’s advice is appropriate: “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” After a few repeats of the Doc McStuffins dispute, you may have to make that 1,000.
  5. You’ll be more likely to discover a creative solution: Negative emotions are not helpful for discovering the innovative, out of the box solutions that would so often solve a dispute. Two angry sisters, for example, are more likely to slice their one orange down the middle than discover that one needs the inside and the other needs the outside of the orange. Even if it does nothing else, the sheer passage of time increases the probability that a creative solution may happily cross someone’s mind.

In sum, I’m not contracting Ben Franklin. But I am suggesting that, in the context of the disputes we face daily, Thomas Jefferson was probably on to something.

Have you ever waited to solve a dispute that could as well solve now?

3 thoughts on “Putting on the brakes: Negotiation via procrastination

  1. Pingback: Are the best negotiators bees or sloths? | Brian Gunia

  2. Pingback: “My computer is slow today” | Brian Gunia

  3. Pingback: What can moms teach us about negotiation? | Brian Gunia

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