B098: How to negotiate when in stalemate

By January 24, 2020May 11th, 2021The Simplifiers Podcast

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What’s the best way to negotiate something BIG when you’re worried that both parties are just going to end up in stalemate? Woof! That’s never a fun spot to be in.

First off, let’s define what “stalemate” means. It’s like being in “deadlock” with someone. As per the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘stalemate’ means this…

Stalemate – noun /ˈsteɪl.meɪt/ – A situation in which neither group involved in an argument can win or get an advantage, and no action can be taken.

In short, not fun. I hope you never find yourself in this situation, but it can happen when negotiating a contract with a new client or when an employee or contractor wants to renegotiate their terms. Or even in your personal relationships with friends and loved ones… or when you’re buying a car. (shudder!) But let’s focus on the business side in today’s conversation.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Roger Jackson, all about how to (actually) keep calm and carry on. And while we were talking about what to do when people (or situations) trigger you and send you in a tailspin of panic, anxiety or stress, it made me think of the many, many times I’ve found myself having to negotiate something really big and scary in my work, or in a board meeting, or even in a big pitch presentation.

And here’s what I realized… being assertive is key. 

It’s a skill that I’m constantly working on and let’s be clear, by no means have I mastered it yet. It’s taken me 42 years so far and I’m guessing it’ll take another 42 before I feel like I’ve really figured out.

However, here’s what I know is true so far. I think it’s best to start with these 4 simple guidelines when negotiating, especially when in stalemate:

  • do your homework on them 
  • do your homework on yourself 
  • aim to solve it together
  • make the first move


Here are 4 simple guidelines for how you negotiate when in stalemate:

  • Do your homework on them 

Before you go into that board room to negotiate the terms, you must do your homework on the other party. You have to be prepared and this requires a high level of empathy and Intuition on your part.

    • TIP: Set a 7-minute timer and journal out your thoughts to the following questions:
      • What are their primary interests and position? 
      • What do they value the most, as it relates to what’s being negotiated?
      • And what do they fear losing the most?
      • Ultimately, what do they want and what concessions do you think they’d be willing to make to get it? 
  • Do your homework on yourself 

Now you’ve got better clarity on what their side is, it’s time to get super clear on yours. It’s funny to think how many times I thought I knew what my stance was and what I actually wanted, but when I took the time to sit down and write it out, I realized that what I wanted was really, really different! Bottomline, take the time and write it out to gain true clarity.

    • TIP: Same, same. Rinse and repeat. Set another 7-minute timer and now, journal out your thoughts to the following questions:
      • What are your primary interests and position? 
      • What do you value the most, as it relates to what’s being negotiated?
      • And what do you fear losing the most?
      • Ultimately, what do you want and what concessions are you willing to make? 
  • Aim to solve it together 

I think it’s incredibly important to kick off the conversation from a place of unity, rather than a “me against you” Battle Royale mentality. If you do this, you’ll shift the proceeding conversation towards finding a joint solution, together.

    • TIP: Say things like this:
      • “How can we make this work?”
      • “This is our problem to solve together.”
      • “Let’s zoom out and see the big picture here. What is the ultimate prize that we both want? Our ultimate goal is ________, right? Let’s keep our focus on this shared goal.”
      • “Can we agree to put our emotions aside and aim to work towards a solution that works for everyone?” (Again, you’re shifting away from a “me against you” grand battle and moving towards finding a joint solution, together.)
  • Make the first move 

I’ve read a lot of articles on the art of negotiation and here’s the bit of advice I’ve seen over and over again… make the first move. The person who puts the first motion out on the table will be in a stronger place to negotiate, most times.

    • TIP: So while it may seem a bit formal to speak in “board meeting” lingo, I always recommend that you put your motion out on the table first, then open the floor for discussion and questions and then finally, take a vote on the matter. If you opt to discuss things without a motion on the table, it’s likely you or the other party will talk in circles, over and over again, without much forward movement. So, here’s how to say it:
      • “I’d like to put a motion out on the table and then let’s discuss it before voting. I motion to ___________. Okay, let’s discuss.”
        • Once it seems like all of the discussion is done and all questions and objections (from both sides) have been answered, then say, “okay, it’s time to vote. Are you in agreement with this motion? Yey/ney.”
          •  Take the vote. 
          • If “no,” then say, “Ok, what if we agree to this motion ______ and I also offered this concession _______. How does that sound?” 
            • Repeat the process until you get to a place where both parties are happy with what they are receiving and what they are conceding to.
            • And if you are still stuck in absolute stalemate, be prepared to walk away. Maybe it’s a 30 minute break to get some fresh air and to let both parties cool off. Or maybe it’s walking away for good. It’s up to you.

So, the next time you are headed into a big negotiation, make sure to go in with a plan. Just jot down a few talking points (like I mentioned earlier) and have it sitting in front of you during the meeting. This will ensure you’re prepared and that you’ll feel confident to speak up when things feel high stakes.

Remember, you can be strong and assertive… and yet, still be kind and respectful, simultaneously.

I’ve been holding to this truth, as of late myself. I am assertive and confident, but also soft and full of grace… for myself and for others. Remember: when you are assertive, you are saying with your outside voice what you need, want and desire with dignity (for yourself) and respect (for both parties). And of course, you hope the other party would do the same.

Don’t forget, if ever the negotiations get hostile or take on a negative tone, remember you can call a recess or walk away at any moment. You do NOT need to endure it “like a good girl” or take on other people’s ISH, especially not in a professional setting. Nope, not going to happen, not on my watch… no thank you.

One final whisper

Woof! Negotiating for something you really, really want is totally tough stuff, isn’t it!! It’s in these moments where I think about my dearest girlfriends and imagine they are cheering me on, in the background. I can hear them whispering in my ear, 

“You are a total badass. You are so incredibly strong, wise, kind, loving and deserving of what you are asking for. Continue to speak up, speak out, and do not let others walk all over you. Your courage speaks volumes and you will rise above the pettiness or vitriol that the other side might fling at you. Deep down inside, you know you’ve got this.”

And so do you. Tap into that inner warrior strength inside of you. But also equally, tap into that kind, full of flow, feminine prowess that sits inside of you, as well. Both sides working in harmony to help you stay strong, speak up, and go with the flow.

So remember, in order to negotiate with grace when in stalemate, you must:

  • Go in prepared, having done your homework on them
  • Feel confident, having also clarified what you really want
  • Aim to solve it together
  • And vow to make the first move

You can do this, I believe in you.

It’s time to SIMPLIFY.

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Show credits: Suzen Marie, our Podcast Editor. Jeffrey Lynn, our Video Editor. Lyden Yardley, our Show Notes Editor, Kristin Castillo, our resident Superhero, and Manminder Athwal, our Blogger. Aubri Nowowiejski, Chris Justice and George Mills, our advisory board. And I’m your host, Mary Baird-Wilcock. Thank you so much for joining us.

As always friends, keep things simple.

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