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Managing Conflict When the Deal Won't Close

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The potential for conflict is ever-present when negotiating. Disagreement can manifest as differences of views, opinions, personality, and interests. If not managed, these differences can lead to hostility. But when handled appropriately, conflict can become a productive element of the negotiation process.

When a deal just won't close, two scenarios tend to make things worse:

  • I win, you lose. If you decide to stand firm on a point of contention and refuse to budge, you may come off as a bully and ignite resentment. This negotiating strategy is usually based on a belief that you aren't responsible for the conflict and therefore aren't willing to compromise to resolve the problem — the only option is for you to win. Using this tactic often inspires the other party to find other ways to win in order to gain ground. It sets up a conflict-ridden relationship, which can be frustrating and unproductive over the long term.

  • I lose, you win. In this scenario, you choose to yield the point of contention without getting anything in return. This approach tends to upset the balance of your negotiation because you come off as a pushover. Eventually, the other party will come back for more . . . and then more. Remaining flexible in negotiations is important, but don't yield too easily as a way to avoid conflict or resolve disagreements too quickly.

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Instead, use the following actions to manage conflict and turn your differences into a dynamic that can lead to a stronger agreement:

  • Finding a win-win solution: The best strategy to pursue when managing conflict is to strive for an agreement in which both sides gain high-priority goals. This approach improves the chances that both sides will feel good about the deal that closes.

  • Pushing the pause button: Sometimes taking a breather during a heated situation is the best course. Step away from the conversation for a little while to cool off and regain objectivity. A break can help you avoid making unrealistic concessions or demands as an emotional response to conflict.

  • Mediation: If necessary, seek the help of a third party (such as an attorney) for your negotiation. This option is often costly and time-consuming, but an objective mediator can help resolve matters of contention that you and the other party are unable to resolve alone.

  • No deal: A no-deal outcome to a conflict means that nothing changes and you choose not to make a deal. The conflict can't be resolved and no advantage exists for you in continuing the negotiation, so you walk away. If you choose this option, be sure to have a back-up plan for meeting your goals in an alternative negotiation.


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