by Bob MacKenzie

What if things go wrong?

With the best will in the world – and even if you set out to achieve a win-win outcome – things can go wrong in negotiations. So it helps to anticipate the most common sorts of problem you might encounter, and have some provisional ideas to hand about how you might address them should they arise.

During the negotiations, there are a number of ways in which you can spot problems and take steps to deal with them before they become a major sticking point.

The steps that you take to deal with these problems are grounded in your negotiation style and strategy, and are often best anticipated in the negotiation and review of your ground rules. This, for example, is where a ground rule concerning time out can prove invaluable. Sometimes, the presence of a designated observer or facilitator is extremely helpful.


How would you deal with the following 12 typical difficulties that can arise during negotiations? Answer the questions, which you can print as a PDF, and then compare your responses with some Possible solutions.

  1. Personality clashes: some of the key players in each party simply don’t like each other, or have radically different ways of behaving.
  1. Feeling backed into a corner (1): the other party feels that you’re backing them into a corner.
  1. Feeling backed into a corner (2): you feel that you’re being backed into a corner by the other party.
  1. Aggressive behaviour (1): some negotiators on the other side are being unduly aggressive.
  1. Aggressive behaviour (2): some negotiators on your side (including, perhaps, you!) are being unduly aggressive towards the other party – or to each other.
  1. Buyer’s remorse: you fear that you could have obtained a better deal now that you’ve finalised an agreement.
  1. Seller’s remorse: you feel that the other party might suspect that it could have obtained a better deal now that an agreement has been finalised, hence storing up potential resentment against you.
  1. Being seen by the other party to be a bully: you feel that the other party is being too passive, and that they might feel that you’ve bullied them into making a bargain that they’ll come to regret.
  1. Cultural offences: you might be unwittingly committing cultural offences against the other party (or even within your own negotiating team), such as invading someone’s personal space, offending their pride or causing them to lose face.
  1. Perceived lack of openness: you feel that the other person or party is keeping their cards so close to their chest that you’re in danger of getting nowhere.
  1. Hidden agendas: there appear to be some hidden agendas beneath the surface that are not being expressed or addressed.
  1. Things seem too good to be true: you worry that you’re moving too fast – close to accepting a glittering offer that might turn out to be fool’s gold. It’s all been too easy.