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Crises are common in difficult negotiations. The important thing is that you prepare a detailed crisis plan, including a crisis team, before the negotiation. Sometimes you may find that it is beneficial to turn the crisis into a dead end on purpose, so you can reach an agreement after reopening negotiations.

Every negotiation, difficult ones in particular, will reach a critical point.   A crisis means there is a rift in a negotiation that has progressed steadily so far.  Suddenly, the future development is uncertain, and depends largely on the opposite side’s reactions and the steps you are taking. The ultimate crisis is when a dead end has been reached.

Hallmarks of a crisis:

• It is a slow process (rather than a catastrophic event that comes totally unexpected).
• It can be avoided. At its root we often find a problem that has not been put on the table.
• More often than not, there is no single reason for the crisis – it is a coming together of several factors that are mutually reinforcing.
• The outcome is uncertain. The crisis can either be resolved, or negotiations will be broken off. During a crisis, we must avoid giving space to people’s emotions. Typical fight/flight reactions of individuals in a crisis will have a negative impact on the negotiation. 

Crisis plan

Every organization is well advised to have a standardized crisis plan in place for escalating negotiations. The crisis plan developed by the Schranner Negotiation Institute is based on standardized processes that have been tried and tested over time.  

Ideally, your organization puts together a group of managers to prepare for a crisis. Akin to a police negotiating team, this group will undergo extensive training for crisis situations. The result will be that crises will be handled in the same way regardless of the circumstances. Intuitive reactions will be suppressed, which is a big plus in difficult negotiations. 

Refraining from manipulating people

You should never manipulate your negotiation partner. Not only is it unfair, the likelihood of this coming right back at you is very high. In a stressful situation, a partner that has been manipulated can become dangerous. Your role in the driver seat is to take the lead in the negotiation and that also means stabilizing your negotiating partner. 

 «N-Crisis» - our crisis plan in a nutshell

1. Single Point of Contact

A negotiating team is made up of the Negotiator, the Commander and the Decision Maker. The negotiator is the single point of contact and remains in this role during a crisis. 

Decision Makers must refrain from getting involved during a crisis. It is the Negotiator’s role, and he/she will ask the Commander or Decision Maker for advice if needed. However, the Negotiator can be exchanged if you have the feeling he/she cannot handle the crisis. 

2. Stopping the information flow

During a crisis, only the Negotiator, the Commander and the Decision Maker hold information - other departments will no longer be involved. This is the only way you can guarantee no information will be released to the other side. 

3. Liaison 

Your contacts on the other side serve to retrieve information, but also to spread the information you want them to have. Just before you reach a dead end, try to increase the outreach to your contacts. Official calls during a crisis should be avoided - it is better to have scheduld a lunch or dinner way in advance that falls into this period. 

4. PR

Difficult negotiations need to be accompanied by a professional PR campaign to manage communications to the public and internal stakeholders alike. Speculations and gossip run high in a crisis so you need to prepare well in advance to avoid any ad-hoc reactions.

5. Integrative negotiation planning 

Reaching a dead end in negotiations is nothing bad per se – it can even be a deliberate strategy, so make sure you plan for it in the preparation phase. An approach that combines placing a multitude of demands while remaining cooperative, so-called “integrative negotiation”, places you in the top game is key to getting an agreement. 

6. Placing demands

The more demands you have prepared, the better. Prioritize them according to their importance (red, yellow, green) and have a game plan for when you want to place them. Mix red/yellow/green demands so your partner cannot guess which ones are important. You can also place your demands with the contacts you have in the other party’s company. 

7. Reaching a dead end

When all demands are on the table and you are unable to come to an agreement with your «integrative negotiation strategy», it is time to create a deadlock. Do not offer a compromise and refrain from postponing the negotiation at this moment.

8. Break-off

You need to make the decision to break off at this point – let the other side believe they have won. The truth is that you are still leading – by breaking off you open a back door to re-enter negotiations at a later stage, when the circumstances/facts have changed.

9. Re-entering negotiations

Depending on how you have broken off negotiations, there are various ways to re-enter negotiations. Ideally, the other party will approach you first – if not, a simple call stating that circumstances have changed will suffice to re-engage.