Can You Spot the 7 Early Signs of a Broken Negotiation?

The other day I was talking with an ex-colleague about his role at work and he was telling me that he had been having some problems getting a decision from a client he thought was going be fairly straightforward.

When I probed some more about the circumstances, it was clear to me that he was experiencing a broken negotiation, but he hadn’t recognized it as such. He was heading down a route that was going in the opposite direction of the success that he had been so sure was his. Things looked bleak.

We talked about it some more and he saw some of the clues, so we then worked out a strategy to repair the break.

We are all aware how important relationships are to how effective we are doing business. So, we need to be observant and pick up on any clues that may indicate that our progress has been derailed. It may be for a number of reasons, including that our relationship could be flawed or potentially broken.

What are the early signs of a broken negotiation? Here’s a short list, not necessarily fully comprehensive, of behavior that would indicate there are problems and then let’s look at some things we can do to turn the situation around.

1. Hesitation

When your customer starts hesitating over what should be fairly straightforward decisions, it’s a warning signal that they are no longer committed to the project or your relationship, or both.

 2. Questioning Attitude

A series of questions in a row covering ground that you were sure had already been covered means there’s some rethinking going on and they are not convinced.

 3. Repeated Objections

If your contact repeatedly raises barriers and reasons they cannot proceed or can’t agree, then this partnership is rocky.

 4. Argumentative

If the client seems to be ready to argue every point and debate the very things you thought had already been agreed, then it’s a sign that there is a problem.

 5. Passive Resistance

Worse than argumentative behavior is passive resistance where the person just shows no interest or reaction and you seem to be talking to yourself.

 6. Not Returning Calls

A huge red flag is the non-response to calls, or responding to calls by e-mail. It demonstrates that they want control and at arms length.

 7. No response to e-mails

Pretty much the kiss of death.

Not only are there clues such as these from behavior, but also from key words used in the conversation, assuming there still is one. Words such as uncertain, issue, questioning, uncomfortable, puzzled, hesitant, concern, lose, doubtful or unclear.

 So what do we do? We need to to get to the bottom of the problem. That means thinking about where it all may have gone wrong and asking some focused questions to reveal where the issue is.

In my experience, very few things happen for just ONE reason. There tend to be a number of factors in play that steer the decision.

It may be that their boss or another colleague has been questioning their decision and perhaps we need to find out who that is and spread our contact base to accommodate them.

Using a series of well-constructed confirmation, new information and attitude questions will normally reveal the issues and what needs to be done to get things back on track.

Have you had a similar situation? What clues were you recognizing?  How did you deal with it?

About the Author:

I am the customer relationship mentor, who helps those responsible for their company’s most important customers, to build and maintain their customer relationships and keep them happy, so that they can protect & grow their business.

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