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Maintain Your Cool

by Phyllis Pollack
December 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       In the latest edition of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Negotiation Tips ( Negotiation Tips ), Linda Bulmash addresses an often reoccurring issue in mediations: how to keep a negotiation from collapsing when an impasse occurs.

       Her most import tip is to control your emotions and maintain your cool. That is, think with your head, not your heart. Her other tips include:

      1. Interrupt the process. Call for a time out that gives everyone time for tempers to cool.

      2. Explore the perspective of those seated at the other side of the table. Continually question yourself and put yourself in the position of the others to try to determine why they are behaving this way. Then you can focus on their underlying needs rather than reacting to their behavior.

      3. Paraphrase what you have heard. “What I heard you say…. Am I correct?”

      4. Inquire by asking open–ended questions that require the other side to elaborate.

     5. Name the issue and call it as you see it: “Criticizing me or attacking my client does not seem the best way to build an agreement to resolve our differences.”

      6. Ask a question directly about the behavior. For example, when someone presents a take it or leave it “offer,” respond by saying, “What do you hope to accomplish when you threaten to walk away while we still have so many issues to discuss?”

      7. Correct an impression. If others accuse you of not listening or being uninterested in their opinion, respond by saying, “I did not mean to seem uninterested. I am very interested and would like to hear more.”

      8. Divert and refocus. When tempers flare, you can respond by saying, “I think we are getting distracted. Let’s try to get back on track.”

     9. Advocate and present your own interests and needs to the opponents but frame it in terms of answering their WIIFM (What’s in It for Me). 


      The first tip is a familiar one: “Interrupt the Process” – take a recess from the negotiation and go for a walk or engage in some other activity. As I have noted in earlier blogs – sometimes – the “ah hah” moment comes precisely because and when we are not thinking about an issue but are focused on something else “Sleeping on it” often does wonders for issue resolving!

      The second tip is just as vital: look at the issue from the other’s viewpoint. Doing so will help you understand what is important to the other party and why. This then allows you to rethink your position and perhaps alter it so that common ground can be found.

      This tip leads to the next; repeat back to the person what she just said. By doing so, that person can verify that she did,  indeed, say what she thought and intended to say and you can verify that you heard it correctly.

        Further, by asking open-ended questions (tip 4), you gain a lot of information which is always useful on in reaching a compromise.

      Tip no. 8 is another crucial tip in overcoming impasse: divert and refocus. Point out that the parties are getting side tracked by their emotions and suggest strongly that everyone stays focused on the issues.

       From my own experience as a mediator, I have found that these tips do work!

       So, the next time your negotiations get bogged down, think about and invoke these tips. They will help get you out of the quagmire and on to firm ground.

       . . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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