Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

4.4. Methods that can be used to break a deadlock are explained with examples.

ryanrori January 7, 2021

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Conflict and aggression could easily cause a party to remove themselves from the negotiation table.  Steers (1991:524) believes that non-action and the removal of an individual or party from an interaction is one of the most common reactions to conflict and aggression.  Deadlock could take many forms (Wall; 1985:60):

  • Parties could officially declare a deadlock towards each other
  • They could boycott negotiation sessions
  • They could ignore opponents or mediators
  • They could ignore deadlines although they might have initially agreed on these deadlines
  • They could just walk out of any interaction

Escalation of conflict

There seems to be a tendency in human beings to counter any action with a similar reaction.  When aggression and conflict are countered in an “eye-for-an-eye” fashion, this could lead to an escalation of conflict that could become very difficult to control in the long term.

The following reactions to aggression could cause a further escalation in a situation where there is already high levels of conflict:

  • An open counter-statement of aggression
  • Character assassination, or office gossip
  • Shouting at the opposition (emotional outburst)
  • Violent arm movements (hostile gestures)
  • Staring down opponents
  • Banging on the table with clenched fists
  • Extreme sarcasm in the face of aggressive statements from the other side
  • Making fun at a serious statement

Wall (1985:65) refers to the role of irrational tactics in negotiation and indicates that irrational behaviour could sometimes be used very effectively in negotiation.  It could encourage the opposition to make concessions because they see the other party as being irrational and therefore do not know whether they will really execute their threat or not. For Wall, irrational tactics include:

  • Bluffing – this could include inviting the other party to retaliate.  It would constitute a challenge for them to execute their threat
  • To use illogical and ridiculous arguments
  • The abrupt changing of the mind
  • Impulsive or careless speech
  • An emotional outburst
  • An attack on the individual members ot the other team’s competence and intellectual ability


One of the outcomes of aggression and conflict could be that the opposition adheres to the request of the aggressor, due to fear or their inability to cope with the conflict itself.  This could aid the aggressive party to reach its objectives in the negotiation.  It is doubtful, however, to what extent there will be any real commitment or change in attitudes due to the “forced adherence” that took place because of the irrational or aggressive behaviour of the opposition.  An “agreement” thus established could become complicated due to elements of guilt and sympathy creeping into the process.  Apart from this, victims could have been created who will surely return in another form at a later stage.

For negotiators it is therefore important to have some guidelines to follow and to develop some skills in the handling of aggression, conflict and irrational actions.