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Subj: Impasse
Date: 97-07-21 14:04:31 EDT
From: (Peter Bloch)


  1. Fly (or sage) on the wall: When an impasse develops, ask that one of the parties physically leave a seat and stand near the wall. They are then asked to play the role of "objective observer," "sage" or even "God" and to look back at the controversy as it is being played out and give both parties advice on the smart thing to do to resolve the problem.
  2. Role play: Ask the parties to exchange roles. Then ask them to remember everything they can about the other person and the other person's position. Ask them to feel like the other person and to be the other person. If they want, they may ask for clarification from the real person, either at the beginning of the exercise or as it progresses.
  3. Brainstorming: Clearly setting up rules that permit anything to be said, regardless of whom it favors or where it may lead.
  4. Neutral evaluation: Pick someone else to comment on the value of something that is crucial to the argument.
  5. External mechanism: Agree on how something will be valued, even though the actual value is not known.
  6. Exaggeration: Ask one or both sides to exaggerate both their position and their emotional attitude. Sometimes exaggeration permits a person to reflect on what they are doing in a fresh way.
  7. Time out or meditation: Permit a break, perhaps in the room together. Do not permit anything to be said. Ask people to reflect in silence on new possibilities they have not seen.
  8. Fresh blood: Ask the parties to send in a fresh person who is authorized to act but has not seen all the blood letting that has occurred.
  9. Confidence building. Have the parties to an important dispute together in a relaxed, retreat-type setting. Let some of the sessions consist of mutual activities or of relaxing together with no particular agenda.
  10. Acknowledgment. Let each side reflect on the admirable qualities of character shown by the other side. Ask them to share their admiration.
  11. Story telling. Let each side be invited to share a story about another situation in their life that reminds them of what is happening now.
  12. BATNA and WAPTNA. Ask each side to develop their "Best alternative to a negotiated agreement" and their "worst alternative to a negotiated agreement." This will permit the parties to see more clealry what is at stake by remembering the best and worst that may happen to them if the negotiations fail.
  13. Confrontation. Confront one or both sides about what they are doing and the likely results of continuing in that way.
  14. Setting deadlines. We must accomplish "x" in the next hour or I will assume that there is no will in this room toward settlement.
  15. Offer to forfeit a portion of your fee if the parties can settle before a set deadline. (Only helpful where the size of the fee is large in relationship to the importance of the conflict.)
  16. Share interests. What do you really want. What is your bottom line. What are the underlying interests (not the positions) that motivate you. Where are you relatively flexible?
  17. Future projects. What might the sides do in the future that would be even more valuable than past activities, providing you can put this controversy behind you.
  18. Relaxed clothes, formal clothes. Ask people to dress differently. To sit in different locations. To sip a cold (non-alcoholic?) drink. (If they are informal ask if becoming more formal might help.)
  19. Switch roles. Become a party. Let one of the parties become the mediator for a while.
  20. Ask the parties for a way to break the impasse. Brainstorm about a way.
  21. Propose one or a few options: Here are some ideas I have had. They count for nothing unless the parties both like the ideas.
  22. Assign to both parties, "Getting to Yes." It has ideas that may help to break the impasse.
  23. List some things that may be at stake: money, prestige, trust, respect, etc. Ask the parties to decide which of these things seems to be most in the way of breaking the impasse.
  24. If someone shows some emotion, comment on the emotion and ask them why they think the emotion is present. Examples: Irritation, anger, nervous laughter, a noticeable change in body position, a "closed" body position, an expression of satisfaction or release.

I'm just getting going. Wonder if others can supplement this list.



Used by permission.  The footer is not a claim of a copyright to the original work by Peter that was posted to the listserve.  To see Peter's updated version, visit

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