Avoiding Deadlocked Negotiations

Your greatest value may be your ability to hold your tongue.

November 1, 1998

“That’s my buyers’ last offer. Tell your sellers they can take it or leave it.”

You've negotiated yourself into a deadlock.

The best way to handle a deadlock, of course, is to avoid it. But doing so involves some negotiating basics.

1. Remember the first rule of negotiating: Always be nice and never use a threatening tone, even if the message is unpleasant.

2. Never give a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. The best strategy is to submit your final offer without a hint of finality. If it’s rejected, resubmit it without change, but with an apology that you can do no better. The message is the same, but you're not threatening.

3. Final offers often aren’t final. It takes time to change a mind, so don’t jump back into the fire right away. Let it cool awhile. Your experience, good judgment, and knowledge of how hot your market is will indicate the proper timing. A few hours might do. In other cases, it can take days or weeks.

4. Figure out whether the disagreement is objective and quantifiable or emotional. Quantifiable differences are the easiest to resolve. If there are several issues, work from the easiest to the hardest.

For instance, if the difference is a manageable sum, a last-ditch tactic is to break up the sum into four shares and ask everyone involved to absorb a piece. A $400 dispute can be resolved through four $100 shares—one each for the buyers, the sellers, and their respective salespeople.

When someone is emotionally upset—characterized by yelling, crying, or silence and the use of words like insulted and mad—offer your sympathy and understanding. Emotionally charged issues generally take longer to resolve, and if you're not seen as an ally, your negotiating efforts will have no effect.

5.Treat the other salesperson as an ally, not an opponent. With emotional issues, your message is less important than how it’s delivered.

In our role as negotiators, we’re not parrots, repeating our clients’ every word. If that were the case, we might just as well let the parties hash it out directly.

David Rathgeber sells and markets residential real estate at Long & Foster Real Estate, McLean, Va. His latest book is Agent's Guide to Real Estate (Realty Research Group, McLean, Va.). In addition to his real estate experience, Rathgeber has managed international multimillion-dollar contract negotiations and wage negotiations with labor unions for Fortune 100 corporations.

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