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Negotiation Deal-Breakers: When to Walk Away

Businesswoman says no at her office

If you regularly negotiate to land new clients and projects—or to convince your boss you deserve a promotion—you probably have some solid strategies in your bag of business tricks. You go in with the goal to close the deal. To get the business. To be recognized. That’s the ultimate end game, right?

Not always. You must be prepared to walk away when certain factors are involved. So when is walking away the smarter move? This much-less-discussed part of the negotiation equation can be a tough concept, especially for those goal-focused professionals who equate walking away with giving up (or giving in).

My colleague Linda Byars Swindling, JD, covered this topic brilliantly in her recent newsletter. Based on her article, I’d like to share five compelling reasons to consider walking away from a business negotiation:

  1. When the deal doesn’t serve your purposes.

If you find yourself accepting business or requests you can’t manage or aren’t qualified to perform, take a pass on it. Those desperate decisions just to pay the bills end up costing you for a long time. Also, be cautious of deals with low profit margins, tight delivery times or slow payment terms.

  1. When you don’t have what the other party needs. Sometimes a party’s request does not work with your business model. Although you really want to make the deal, it would require you to invent a special product or service just for this application. Or maybe the work falls far outside your area of expertise. Walk away. Don’t tie up resources creating something unusual that you’ll never use again. The experience will exasperate you, and the other party will likely be less than pleased with your performance.

  2. When it isn’t worth it.

You need to feel good about the return on your investment of time, effort and resources. If you are in the middle of the agreement without a graceful way to exit, honor your word. Finish the work well, and learn your lesson. However, if you are still considering a deal that you know will take too much time and money, let it go.

  1. When it just doesn’t feel right.

Trust your gut. If the deal doesn’t feel right or sounds unethical, stop the negotiations. Don’t do business with people you don’t trust, especially if your instincts tell you the potential client, partner or vendor is a “bad fit” in the initial meeting. Your credibility and reputation distinguish you over the long term. It’s not worth it to proceed with an opportunity that could possibly hurt your good name. Real professionals are comfortable saying “no” if the deal does not fit their model and ethics.

  1. When the deal doesn’t align with your needs.  

Make sure the project or partnership genuinely fits you and is mutually beneficial. A critical part of negotiation is structuring an arrangement to meet your needs and expectations. Don’t be so desperate that you agree with the other party just to conclude the transaction.

Business opportunities will always be out there. Stop working so hard on ones that don’t fit. Instead, focus on clients, relationships and projects that can help you to achieve your goals (and those of your organization). Learn to move more quickly in identifying which deals make sense and which don’t. Most importantly, when you sense that a project isn’t right for you, give yourself permission to walk away from the negotiations. No hesitation, no regrets.

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Special thanks to Linda Swindling, who provided the inspiration for this post. Linda Swindling, JD, CSP, is a recognized authority on negotiations, workplace issues and strategic communication. She is also an author, a “recovering” employment attorney, and a Certified Speaking Professional. To book Linda to speak at your event, contact Zan Jones at or call (214) 536-6666. Click here to watch a recent video of Linda discussing this topic on Fox 26 in Houston.

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