In both the workplace and in education, people are constantly involved in negotiations. A negotiation typically involves two or more people or parties striving to reach a joint agreement on a decision – perhaps you are discussing with peers who works on which part of a group project, agreeing on a deadline for a task, or you are convincing a stakeholder to support a new strategy of your business.
The World Economic Forum has ranked negotiation skills as one of the top 10 skills required for jobs in the future, so it is vital to learn how to negotiate effectively. In fact, research shows that leaders spend around 15% to 26% of their working hours negotiating – but many of these negotiations end with an impasse.
An impasse occurs when the parties end a negotiation without coming to an agreement, either because one or both parties prefer no agreement, or because they could not reach an agreement despite benefitting from doing so. Understanding why negotiations end with an impasse and how to prevent them can help leaders and potential leaders become more effective, improve business outcomes, and make employees happier.
A 2020 analysis of 25 million negotiations on eBay found that 55% ended in an impasse, and respondents to a survey we conducted indicated that 29% of their most recent negotiations ended without agreement. However, much of the research on negotiations ignores impasses. Therefore, Professor Stefan Thau from INSEAD and Professor Madan M Pillutla from London Business School, together with Martin Schweinsberg examined the impact of impasses in negotiations research.
They reviewed and systematically coded more than 1,000 research papers on negotiations to understand what they know about why negotiations end without an agreement. Through this, they identified three different types of negotiation impasses; wanted, forced, and unwanted, the factors through which they can occur, and the solutions they require to be resolved.