Getting Past an Impasse

The other day, I was in a conversation that got a bit uncomfortable. Two people were talking about a situation that one of them was unhappy about, and they ended at an impasse. Well, they ended up arguing, anyhow. What started as one person being unhappy ended up with two people being unhappy.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen (or been a part of) an impasse. While I’m not a part of nearly as many of them as I was when I was a teenager trying to negotiate with my parents, impasses haven’t gotten any less frustrating.

I’m sure you’ve been part of a situation like this: You’re just trying to get to a final result, but the other party doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea how to get there. To add insult to injury, the other party doesn’t accept your way to get there. You end up stuck and frustrated. If it’s a really bad day, you both end up angry. Maybe you lose this business deal. Maybe you don’t get to do the project. Ugh.

You can definitely end up at an impasse moving forward, but you can also end up at an impasse when you’re trying to resolve a conflict. Maybe the two of you seem to remember different things happening. Maybe the other person is completely unapologetic for insulting you. Maybe the other person feels unreasonably insulted by whatever you did. Sometimes the argument about the impasse ends up being even worse than the first conflict. Ugh.

I’ll admit to getting inordinately frustrated when I hit an impasse. It turns out, however, that I’ve had to learn how to get past them. Here’s what I attempt to do:

  • Calm down. I’m one of those people who is not at my best when I’m frustrated. Step one for me is always to calm down. If I have to remove myself from a situation in order to calm down, I will try to do so.
  • Try to let go of my position. I don’t mean that I let go of it permanently; I just try not to be blinded by it. Sometimes I do this by forcing myself to learn about the other person’s point of view. Which brings me to my next point…
  •  Ask questions. I try to make sure that I’m not trying to manipulate by questions – I’ve been guilty of that many times! Instead, I try to clarify the things that just Do Not Make Sense to me.
  • Resist explaining. This one is hard for me. When I’m asking questions, I try to resist jumping on each answer with my counter argument or point of view. If I manage to resist, this goes much better. Honestly, I tend to fail at this one. And when I fail…
  • Get help. Nothing beats a third party for getting through an impasse. If I don’t know what I’m even arguing about, a third party can usually identify the miscommunication or fundamental personality difference that led to the impasse.

It’s easy for me to help resolve an impasse when I’m the third party. It’s harder when I’m not, though. I’d love to hear any other tactics that you use to get past an impasse.

Deception Pass” by Alex Green is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.