In the summary that wrapped up the Openings unit, I quoted the adage that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Now in this unit on Closings, we’ve been looking at the final step in that passage. It may be the point where the parties say yes and stand up to shake hands on a deal. Or it may be when one or both of them decide to walk away from the bargaining table without reaching agreement.
As we have seen throughout, negotiators face choices, large and small, from the beginning of the process to the end. Where should they meet, for example, or who should make the first offer? Decisions must be made even though the consequences will often be uncertain. Will a generous proposal be read as a gesture of good will, for instance, or misread as a sign of weakness.
Making decisions before all the facts are available is often worrisome, but the reality is that we can never be sure how others will respond or how circumstances may change for the better or for the worse. The good news is that often it’s possible to recover when we misstep. We can make an apology or correct a misperception. We saw examples of that in the unit on Critical Moments.
As you make your way through the negotiation process, you should always be monitoring your progress. Ask yourself regularly:
- Am I successfully engaging with my counterpart?
- Do I have a clearer sense of the zone of possible agreement?
- Are we coming closer to making a deal?
If there are solid reasons to answer yes to all three questions, that’s an encouraging sign that you are headed in the right direction. Build on that momentum in order to bring the negotiation to a successful conclusion. If the answer to one of those questions is no, then that signals where you have to adjust your approach.
If the answer to all three questions is no—and sometimes that will be the case—then it’s likely time to reconsider whether prolonging the process is worthwhile Great negotiators are creative problem-solvers. They build relationships and sometimes resolve seemingly irreconcilable differences. They are persistent, but they also know that there can come a point where walking away is be the better outcome.