On the face of it, applying an approach to negotiations that essentially boils down to “we’re both going to lose” makes little sense. If the outcome of being avoidant constitutes a loss, why would anyone choose to adopt it? Surprisingly, though, this week’s style is more commonly used than you might think, mostly by parties that either cannot stand conflict or those that have difficulties communicating with others directly. It might not lead to a win along the usual lines of material gain but it does have certain advantages that can benefit you throughout the negotiation process.
Underlying drivers to being avoidant are mostly pragmatic in nature: there’s either too little at stake for a party to waste precious time and energy on resolving the conflict, or the issue under negotiation is too trivial to risk a full-scale escalation and all the excessive hammering and pushing that would be required to get it through. By removing yourself from the situation and taking some time out, emotions can calm down and all sides are much more likely to resort back to rational thinking.
Avoidance can also be a good strategy to adopt when you’re thrown into a negotiation process without having had the time to prepare. By avoiding certain meetings or issues that require additional research and preparation, you can push for more time to catch up and get your act together. Especially when confronted with an opponent who is of a highly competitive nature, creating distance will give you some breathing room and temporarily takes you out of their crosshairs.
Risks and Vulnerabilities
Strangely enough, while negotiators who follow the avoid-style try their very best to stay away from conflict, it is very often the corresponding behaviour that gets them into more trouble. Shutting down channels of communication leads other parties to fill in the blanks, and any communication that does take place is likely to be vague and ambiguous. Your opponents will not be able to anticipate your actions and might even think you’re no longer interested in a healthy business relationship, wasting their time and effort and unwittingly pushing them into the arms of your competitors. Altogether this can gradually lead to a form of mutual resentment and a passiveaggressive relationship that is very difficult to repair at a later stage.
Furthermore, be careful with the information you share in a negotiation process. Depending on which party has a greater transactional urgency, the avoidant approach can be used to your advantage or be used against you. If a party knows their opponent is in urgent need of a particular 7 service or resource to reach a target, they can simply up the pressure by stalling the negotiation. It is therefore wise to keep your own cards close to your chest but be observant for tell-tale signs that might reveal your opponent’s urgent needs.
When faced with an avoid-style negotiator, the best way to retain some form of control of the negotiation process is to set a clear time schedule from the very start. Forecast milestones and make sure to attach dates to each of them. Proposing a penalty system if either of you do not meet the targets can work as an enforcing mechanism.
Make sure to have a thorough understanding of the opponent’s chain of management and decision-making processes. If they choose to apply avoid-style tactics, you’ll know your options for escalating the issue, potentially allowing you to sidestep the immediate negotiation stalemate. This might also prove useful when your opponent is unhappy with a negotiation outcome. Being avoidant, they are more likely to take matters into their own hands rather than communicating their discontent. Be vigilant for any future vengeful behavior and escalate when necessary.
IntelleXt is an AI startup that is revolutionizing the way contracts are negotiated, accelerating time to close, and improving deal terms. IntelleXt’s Intelligent Negotiation Platform™ eliminates the complexities of contract redlines and stakeholder collaboration and optimizes deal terms by applying machine learning during the negotiation process.
Fengwei David An is IntelleXt’s Game Theory & Analytics Research Manager. He has extensive knowledge and practical experience in decision-making processes, negotiations, and compliance through his work in public as well as in private enterprises.