It denotes a state of negotiation in which an agreement cannot be arrived at. Neither side is then willing to compromise on outstanding issues. Third-party or external mediation may then be considered necessary to resolve the state to continue negotiation. A panel may be set up to independently investigate the facts of the matter who may arbitrate upon the issues and arrive at a conclusion. If the parties still be unsatisfied or unable to arrive at an agreement, one of the parties or the assembled panel may be at liberty to unilaterally impose and implement terms and conditions specific to the contract, as the case may be.
An impasse is often encountered in situations of negotiations between companies and labour unions – for instance, in relation to compensation and hours put in by employees. Procedures to be adopted in the wake of an impasse are usually specified by company policy and/or legal regulation. The supervising panel may extend the negotiation in time or subject it to fact finding.
A set of five steps are typically suggested to improve the likelihood that the problem can be more thoroughly understood, that solutions can be better explored and that the advantages of a negotiated agreement can be acknowledged within a constructive environment. The first step comprises understanding one’s own biases, triggers and apprehensions and to establish an environment that helps one overcome them. Secondly, it is important to identify precisely the needs or objectives that are threatened by the dispute. Thirdly, establishing a space that is counted on by both parties as fair, neutral as well as non-inconveniencing (in terms of time and place), and taking up a stance of listening and seeking to understand (rather than to be understood right away) helps make the first move away from the impasse. The fourth step is to assert oneself in the light of the previous steps, and the fifth consists of being calm, flexible, patient and respectful and to implement the solution that has been obtained.