Smash through the standoff! Introducing issues to unproductive negotiations

At some point, many negotiations spiral into an unproductive standoff over money—an issue over which the negotiators tend to utterly disagree. Most often, such standoffs end with an escalation of conflict or proliferation of concessions, neither of which is particularly productive. But, as I teach in my negotiation classes, there’s third way that can make life negotiable: adding another issue to the table.

“So what types of issues should we add?” asked a participant named Stuart Merkel in one of my recent executive education courses? “Is there a set of categories—a list of topics to consider adding to the table?” And I must admit that I was hard-pressed to provide a reasonable answer. I had no choice but to scratch my head and say no, to the best of my knowledge.

So why not take this post as an opportunity to detail the most common categories of issues that negotiators add to the table—new topics that can smash through the standoff and make everyone happier? Drawing from negotiation research and my observation of innumerable students negotiating, I’d propose the following top-ten list of issues to consider introducing, should you find yourself in a standoff:

  1. Time: How quickly will the agreement be executed?
  2. Quality: At what level of quality?
  3. Performance incentives: Will the seller get a bonus for completing the work / delivering the product early or excellently? Or a penalty for completing it tardily or poorly?
  4. Responsibilities: Which part of the agreement will each party be responsible for executing?
  5. Payment terms: How quickly, at what level of interest, and in what form will the buyer issue payments?
  6. Add-ons: What additional services or products will the seller bundle with the main commodity?
  7. Future business: After the current agreement, will either party consider or commit to engaging with the other?
  8. Future events and contingencies: How will the parties adjust for future events, foreseen or otherwise?
  9. Warranties: Will the seller guarantee the quality of the product or service, and for what period of time?
  10. Returns: Under what conditions will the buyer be able to change their mind?

So thanks, Stu, for the great idea—an idea that inspired a post that will hopefully help people break through the standoffs they’ll inevitably encounter eventually.

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