Negotiation Impasses: Types, Causes, and Resolutions

Schweinsberg, M., Thau, S., & Pillutla, M. Can’t agree: Negotiation impasses: Types, causes, and resolutions. In press at the Journal of Management.

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Although impasses are frequently experienced by negotiators, are featured in newspaper articles, and are reflected in online searches and can be costly, negotiation scholarship does not appear to consider them seriously as phenomena worth explaining. A review of negotiation tasks to study impasses reveals that they bias negotiators toward agreement. We systematically organize past findings on impasses and integrate them in the impasse type, cause, and resolution model (ITCR model). Our fundamental assumption is that a positive bargaining zone does not imply symmetric preferences for an agreement. One or both negotiators may prefer an impasse over an agreement despite a positive bargaining zone. We argue that it is beneficial for management research to distinguish between three impasse types: If both negotiators perceive benefit from an impasse, they are wanted; if one negotiator perceives benefits from an impasse, they are forced; and if both do not perceive benefits from the impasse, they are unwanted. We review structural (e.g., bargaining zone, communication channels), interpersonal (e.g., tough tactics, emotions), and intrapersonal (e.g., biases, available information, and framing) factors as the likely antecedents of the three impasse types. We also examine evidence that suggests that wanted impasses can be resolved by changing the negotiation structure for both parties, forced impasses can be resolved through persuasion, and unwanted impasses can be overcome by debiasing both parties. Finally, we review current methodological guidance and provide updated recommendations on how scholars should deal with impasses in both study designs and data analyses.

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