Once the sides are exchanging positions, negotiations are in full swing. Important points will be raised, sometimes as demands, other times with less threatening words that will add up to the same thing. The flow of the process can vary greatly depending on what you’re negotiating. There are no hard and fast rules for how this ought to proceed.
As we’ll see in Chapter 8, “The Two Ds: Demands and Deadlines,” some negotiators like to get the tough stuff out of the way first, while others will tend to push it off. Personally, I like to work with a few easier issues first, building trust up, then tackle the more difficult issues, with a few easier points held in reserve. That’s because the easier points can be used to keep negotiations moving in the right direction if they bog down on serious disagreements.
In a perfect world, your intelligence gatherer has figured out what the sticking points are going to be before you sit down to negotiate. This of course gives you plenty of time to contemplate a strategy for dealing with these points. Well, guess what? The world ain’t perfect. Sticking points tend to be sticking points precisely because nobody thought they were going to be problems ahead of time. Difficult issues are, in the final analysis, difficult issues.
Hostage negotiations tend to be pretty intense, and sooner or later they come down to one sticking point—the suspect has to surrender. With all the attention on that one issue, it’s important for the negotiator to be able to ease the tension at times. Sometimes when the pace of the negotiation bogs down, the hostage negotiator will just stop talking about that point. He or she will change the subject to something else: kids, baseball, the price of paint in Poughkeepsie. It’s like taking a time-out. Human beings need to relax every so often.
Real time-outs are also part of the negotiator’s tool kit. Simply breaking for a few minutes—or days, in an everyday negotiation—can do wonders for the process as a whole.