Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

What if you’re representing your agency in the middle of a negotiation with a contractor and you reach a deadlock? What can you do to keep the negotiation moving forward—and to gain the competitive advantage? In his book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers the “set-aside” tactic as an effective way to keep things moving in your favor. Has this tactic ever worked for you? Is there a chance it could backfire?


Deadlocks happen in negotiations, and the set-aside tactic is specifically designed to break deadlocks. Whenever the other side insists on a number or an issue that deadlocks the negotiation, simply acknowledge the contractor’s position and suggest setting it aside for a while and moving on to other issues. Say something like, “I can tell this issue is important to you, and it’s obvious we’re pretty far apart on it. To keep the negotiation moving, let’s set that issue aside for the moment and see if we can’t get some of these other issues out of the way.” If the other side is truly interested in reaching an agreement, it will always agree.

Then restart the momentum of the negotiation by getting agreement on many of the smaller (or noncontroversial) issues. This gets both sides into the swing of the give-and-take of the negotiation again. And the more you agree on issues, the more the other side will be under pressure to keep the ball rolling and continue to agree. After you have reconditioned the other side back into the habit of saying “yes,” reintroduce your tabled issue. Chances are, the other side is now more willing to come to some agreement on it—to meet you more than halfway—to continue the momentum of the negotiation.

What if the other side uses the set-aside tactic on you? How can you counter the tactic fairly and effectively?

First, don’t be too hasty to counter an offer at all. Setting aside the sticky issue may be just as healthy and appropriate for your side as it is for the contractor. You can also reverse the effects of the tactic by simply taking it over. If the other side proposes to set an issue aside, say something like, “Fine. Let’s table this issue until later and see if we can get some agreement on all these other points. Let’s have a caucus and I’ll rearrange our agenda so we can get to these other issues.”

Keep in mind the most powerful counter to the set-aside tactic: You are the government, so you control the agenda and the negotiation. Don’t let the other side take away this powerful inherent advantage you enjoy. When a contractor pulls out the set-aside, you get to reset the agenda and now can order the revised agenda to encourage agreement on minor issues to build momentum and create time investment. You can literally hijack the other side’s own tactic! Of course, you can also disagree to set aside the issue and continue the negotiation if you feel it is in your interest to do so.

Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation by LeGette McIntyre, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved. www.managementconceptspress.com

Written by:
Alexis Whitehouse
MC Bio
Acquisition & Contracting
Media Type:
Deadlock  Negotiation  

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