The Negotiator Magazine

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Let's begin with some essential questions that you as a negotiator need to ask when the possibility of walking away from a negotiation arises. What is the reason for the "walk out?" What else can be done? What are the risks? What are the gains? What are the next steps?

"Walk-outs" occur for many reasons. Let's look at some of them. Sometimes they are purely strategic moves. Imagine you are at an auto dealer, an excellent deal is almost done and a small item remains unresolved. The salesperson will not budge. Floor mats are another $120. You decide to "walk out," confident the salesperson will follow you and throw in the floor mats It is a strategic move and you will either win the mat issue, create a compromise or you lose the whole deal. If you are wise, you have employed this device after carefully considering the alternatives. It is a calculated move, based upon weighing risks and gains not an emotional one.

"Walk-outs" are common strategic moves. Haggling with a street vendor for a prized item often employs a walk-away tactic, hoping that the vendor calls a lower price as we go. It is the same in business. We assess the odds and hope for a break-through by walking away. It is a calculated gamble. Here, is my price - take it or leave it is the positional power negotiator's cry.

Let's imagine a situation in which the other party is continually lying to you. You call them on it and they continue to lie. Is there any point in continuing with the negotiation? Would you trust this person to fulfill a deal? If not, it's time you to either call off the negotiation or bring in the next negotiator to represent your team.

Actually, determining whether to walk out should involve you in a mini-negotiation with the other party about their behavior and with your organization about their position on your next steps. Obviously, if you are representing someone else you need to get their take on the proper next step before you walk. You can demand a delay, seek to negotiate behavioral and ethical standards with the other party and ask for a discussion of the process by the parties. Let's assume you have done all of these and nothing changes. It is time for you to walk or turn the negotiation over to another representative.

As a negotiator, the critical factor for you in considering whether to "walk-out" is the obvious risk. This action is not one to consider casually and certainly not one to select in anger. Here, is a moment in which you have to weigh all the factors that brought you to this negotiation and recognize that as soon as you walk out the door you may have broken off the negotiation and even the relationship, eliminated yourself from the table, but not necessarily your organization, or truly changed the dynamics between the parties in either a positive or a negative manner.

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December 2004