Communicating Through an Impasse

            The impasse in Washington over the debt ceiling demonstrates how hard negotiations can be. This is probably the most difficult kind of interpersonal communication to engage in. Too often our emotions intervene and we can’t get over our emotional hump to reach a win/win situation.

            Here are some tips on how to negotiate successfully.

            Don’t use emotional language. Don’t say how awful or dumb the other person’s idea is. Instead ask an open question or use a non-judgmental comment such as, “There might be another way of looking at our issue that I’d like to share.” 

            Stress what you can agree on. For example, we all want our economy to remain secure, no matter what political party we represent. We might even agree that we don’t want to go into more debt. But how we go about achieving these goals is where we are struggling to reach a reasonable solution.

            Have a cooling off period. If emotions get too high, take a break. Go get lunch or set a time for the next day or next week. Name-calling or certain words used such as wouldn’t or couldn’t or shouldn’t may indicate it is time for a break in the discussions.         

            Develop as much specific support as you can for your position. The more effective you are in providing evidence from a variety of sources for your position, the more likely the group can reach a satisfactory solution for everyone. Using strong evidence raises the bar for everyone to provide sound reasoning for a point of view.     

            Keep a positive and upbeat approach to the issue. Make it clear that you are sure a resolution can be reached and that everyone has the interest of all involved. Include statements like, “I know when we work through this, our organization will be much stronger because of the conversations we are having currently.”

            Keep the discussions limited to the people who are involved in the decision-making process. Don’t go public with the discussion until you have reached agreement. Usually when participants go public with the content of the negotiations, not much is happening to resolve the issue. Not hearing anything about the discussions may indicate a resolution to the issue is being made.

            Listen more than you talk. Seek to get as much information as you can to better able to assimilate the different points of view and eliminate the impasse. When I listen, I develop my credibility in the eyes of the person talking and thus increase my own chances of being heard when I do speak.  An excellent way to insure that you are listening more than you are talking is about asking good questions that require the other people to talk.

            Get to know the other person personally. President Obama and Majority leader John Boehner recently played golf together. This can’t help but create a bond beyond the negotiating table.

            I’m convinced that a resolution will be reached—or may already have been reached by the time you read this. One major reason is that all involved have the best interests of our country at heart.

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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