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When Should You Walk Away From a Negotiation?

By Linda Swindling, JD, CSP

In the news recently we witnessed Amazon pull out of discussions with New York for an office in Long Island, and the President walked away from conversations with North Korea. While there are several reasons why these powerhouses didn't come to an agreement, there is a bigger message for us. Like the lyrics from Kenny Rogers' song, The Gambler:

"You've got to know when to hold 'em Know when to fold 'em Know when to walk away And know when to run.’"

When you negotiate, be prepared to stay the course. Yet, begin your discussions by reminding yourself that you may have to walk away from a deal and, at times, run.

Should You Ask Away or Walk Away in a Negotiation?

Have you ever placed pressure on yourself to make a deal work or come to an agreement when it didn't feel right? Whether it is a professional or a personal matter, you lose your power when you are unable to walk away.

Sometimes you have to walk away but not as often as you might think.

How do you determine whether you have hope in reaching an agreement and should continue discussions or whether you are wasting your time?

In my book, Ask Outrageously: The Secret to Getting What You Really Want, you're given ways to decide when to stay engaged, postpone communications, or detach completely...

Ask Away

Are your requests heard and are discussions moving in a positive direction? Keep at it and continue to ask when the other person:

  • Asks how you arrived at your conclusions or your thinking.
  • Exhibits body language which shows the person is listening, taking in your points and considering your requests.
  • Disagrees with you but isn't disagreeable.
  • Discusses information in a rational and respectful manner.
  • Educates you on something new or describes a policy and/or you are gaining information.
  • Knowingly or unknowingly is teaching you about the process or players involved.
  • Agrees he/she wants to work together just not sure how.

If someone is not agreeing or committing but continues to listen and participate in the conversation, stick around to find if you can reach common ground. Later if you leave the negotiating table, you depart with a clean conscience knowing you made a solid effort.

Walk Away

Are you sensing your conversation is not productive or headed nowhere right now? It's time to leave if the other person:

  • Clearly has no power or authority to say "yes" or even influence a yes.
  • Would face a reprimand or could lose their job over your request by violating policy.
  • Begins acting obnoxiously or is rude or disrespectful.
  • Begins packing up to walk away. Take it as a sign. Grab your items and say, "It's time to break our conversation up."
  • Lies to you. If you decide to stay, proceed with great caution and require confirmation of any promises made.
  • Sets you up to look bad or to make a mistake.
  • Is on a fishing expedition looking for information and not sharing in exchange.
  • Creates roadblocks leaving you no productive way to get your interests met.

Stop and say, "It's time for a break." or "Let's postpone and talk later." Then, politely excuse yourself. When you are away from the pressure of the moment, you can determine if reconvening makes sense.

Run Away

Are you are uncomfortable personally or professionally. Exit quickly if the other person:

  • Makes you feel unsafe. (There are creepy and toxic people out there.)
  • Responds in a way that asks you to sacrifice ethics or morals.
  • Suggests that you do something that is against company policy or is illegal.

Know your non-negotiables. Your employment, reputation, physical safety and mental health are not worth risking.

Negotiate Your Way

Identify when it makes sense to stay involved, even if the discussions are taking longer or not following your precise plan. At the same time, remember experienced negotiators know that postponing conversations and even withdrawing entirely is part of the secret to getting what you really want. Life is a series of negotiations. You are the decision maker in your life and get to choose whether you stay the course, delay your discussions or pursue other avenues.

Be willing to walk away to get what you really want!

PS Want help improving your team's communication, negotiation or leadership skills? Please ask us about my speaking at your conference, workshop, or event!

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