Sometimes in mediation you feel like you’re at a dead end. Whether it’s explicitly stated or not, one or more parties are saying, “There’s nothing more I can do,” or “This conversation is over.” How can you get negotiations moving again?

Consider the following five helpful strategies.

1. Show Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of another. It’s about having compassion and being able to “walk in the other person’s shoes, so to speak. Being able to show empathy is an absolute requirement for an effective negotiator. How then can you display empathy when parties are at an impasse?

A starting point is to identify and work to moderate your emotions. Are you feeling stressed, angry, tired, hungry? Identifying your emotions first will help you empathise with the other person’s emotional state.

Keep calm and watch your body language. Keep a relaxed open posture. Speak slowly and calmly. Smile.

2. Use active listening

Listen carefully to what the person is saying. Nod your head, keep eye contact, and smile when appropriate. Give verbal feedback: “Mm-hmmm, I see, really, right, go on, tell me more…” Summarize what they say, “So what you think is …”. This will go a long way to convincing them that you understand the facts and their feelings. Acknowledge their valid concerns: “If I were in your shoes, I’d fee, the same way…”

3. Take a break

Pressure points can ease when parties set an issue aside and move on to something else, preferably an easier issue. You could, for example, start with the smallest issue first. If you can resolve a small issue, it may create the goodwill that can help ease you past a thornier problem.

4. Emphasise common ground

Restate all the areas you have agreed on so far. Praise teach other for getting that far. Then ask: "How can we stop all this from getting away from us?" Draw out the emotional, financial, and other costs of litigation and delay. Then ask: “What would you be willing to offer if I accepted your proposal?”

5. Reverse roles

You might offer to try briefly reversing roles. Say: "If our roles were reversed, what concerns might you have with your position?" Doing this may help the other person understand your interests and constraints. Beware, however, that it could also convince them that you are fundamentally incompatible and that a solution is unreachable.

Most of all, remember that overcoming impasse does not necessarily mean defeating the other person. It primarily means arriving at an outcome that allow you to move forward, delivering an outcome you can live with.

Then at least to some degree, both of you will be winners.


If you feel your negotiations are at a dead end, redouble your efforts to show empathy, engage active listening, take a break, emphasize common ground, and try reversing your roles in the discussion. These tools may help produce an outcome you both can live with.