How to Overcome Stonewalling in a Negotiation?

Someone exhibiting the stress of stonewalling

In a posting by Yvette Erasmus, PsyD LD, on December 27, 2016 she asks a question about stonewalling and then provides some very good ideas from neuroscience. Stonewalling is “when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shutting down and closing themselves off from the speaker because they are feeling overwhelmed or physiologically flooded.” So what does Dr. Erasmus suggest to bring the conversation back on course?

  1. Don't take it personally: I find it helpful to remind myself that what I may call "stonewalling" is simply a strategy this person uses to manage their emotions when they are feeling overwhelmed. They may need some space, safety, clarity and self-connection, and don't yet have the awareness or ability to ask for it.
  2. Don't judge. Not yourself; Not the other person. Criticism is such a royal waste of time and energy: choose to be curious, tender, gentle and open instead.
  3. Reflect: Are my choices opening up or shutting down further interactions? Use that as feedback to adjust your approach.
  4. Try new words. For example, "I'm longing to hear about what is happening inside you, but don't want to push you to talk before you feel ready. I'm going to back off for a while, but this doesn't mean I am abandoning you or punishing you. I just want to give you the space you might need to get grounded and clear, and when you are ready to talk, would you come and let me know?" And, you could follow that up with, "If I am getting this wrong and you are needing something different from me (for example, for me to sit with you in silence instead of leaving you alone), I am open to hearing that too - just let me know."

I take these four points and offer you some ideas in my own words, applying these ideas to conflict resolution and negotiations. Here are some additional thoughts for your consideration.

  1. Don’t take it personally is a real key and ties directly to:
  2. Don’t judge
    I like to say that we need to avoid the two stinky twins of BS and BO. In this case BS stands for Blaming Self and BO stands for Blaming Others. It is important to realize that we have a natural tendency to blame someone and to demonize others. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world really were that simple? Unfortunately it is not that simple in a negotiation and the sooner we move away from demonizing the other party and instead focus on the issue or concern. It is a waste of time and energy to blame ourselves or others. When we begin to focus on the issues and the other party as a person, this may lead us to:
  3. Reflect
    That is try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Try listening when they are ready to talk. Perhaps we need to take a break or actually postpone the discussion for another day. Perhaps there are other events that are not allowing the other party to continue in the discussion or negotiation.
  4. Try new words
    You might want to ask or state something like, “If we are going to proceed, I need to know more about you or your situation. Would you be willing to share with me what your concerns are at this moment? If we cannot openly share our concerns with one another it may not be possible to develop trust and work towards resolution. If now is not a good time, maybe we should reconvene when the time may be better for both of us.” Having raised questions like this I became aware of very serious issues with the other party (death, family concerns, other issues), which clearly were cause for us to reconvene at a later time. By not judging and by reflecting with empathy what you are perceiving, this can go a long way to overcoming the stonewalling by the other party. It may even be cause to develop a much better working relationship leading to collaboration.

Dr. Erasmus offers insights relative to relationships. Take this a step further in your negotiations and you may well find a good collaborator in the future. It can’t hurt to try.

Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA is an expert in conflict resolution dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including his NEW BOOK now also available as an ebook, Peaceful Resolutions: A 60-step illustrated guide to conflict resolution are available at this link. Free resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com. Check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311.