Bargaining Late | Brampton Employment Mediator | Negotiation | Toronto Mediation

4 Easy Rules for Bargaining Late

Years ago when I first got elected to a union bargaining team, I had images of bargaining late with night bargaining sessions and tense exchanges in the early morning hours. After nearly a decade chairing teams and negotiating agreements worth anywhere from a few million dollars to hundreds of millions of dollars, only a few such late night sessions stand out. Going late can be useful or dreadful. This post will offer 4 easy rules for burning the midnight negotiation oil. Because if you are going to lose sleep over a negotiation, you should not lose value.

Rule 1: Know Why You are Bargaining Late

Negotiation is a process. At the beginning of the process you should be learning as much as you can about what your other is looking for in a deal. You need to be hypervigilant for what Chris Voss calls black swans, a piece of information that can completely make a deal workable and that you didn’t know about before the negotiation. Since understanding and attention are needed bargaining late just to try and get something going or to get hours behind you is pointless.

Once you have explored each others positions and have formulated and evaluated some of your counter proposals and you have taken stock of the things in the deal you value then you can try for a late night. The timing of this depends on the organizations involved. If you are negotiating a collective agreement and all the employer’s finance office people go home at 330, it may not make sense to meet much past quitting time. Bargaining late should be seen as a way to maintain momentum and introduce urgency into a negotiation.

Rule 2: Bring Unhealthy Snacks

Decision making in bargaining | late night bargaining | mediator tips | negotiator
Decisions take cognitive energy. Using that energy depletes glucose stores in your brain which makes you less likely to have the ability to stay on task and make good decisions about the negotiations. Sugary snacks increase your ability to make deliberate decisions. There is also a reversion to heuristic decision making as glucose levels drop. Danziger and his colleagues studied Israeli parole boards and found that their decisions were more favorable to prisoners right after meal breaks. So I guess you could get a similar effect by regularly eating wholesome food, but as you are about to see in rule 3 restrained choices also eats cognitive energy.

Rule 3: Let Loose

Self control takes cognitive energy too. You are essentially spending mental energy on maintaining focus. That means that when it comes time to process the issues in front of you, you will spend less time finding a good solution. Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven and Tice published a series of different experiments that demonstrated that focus and self control depleted a subjects ability to solve problems.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are facing a very difficult decision about which of two job offers to accept. One position offers good pay and job security, but is pretty mundane, whereas the other job is really interesting and offers reasonable pay, but has questionable job security. Clearly you can go about resolving this dilemma in many ways. Few people, however, would say that your decision should be affected or influenced by whether or not you resisted the urge to eat cookies prior to contemplating the job offers. A decade of psychology research suggests otherwise. Unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects, and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision. In other words, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat a cookie.

Amir (2008). Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain.
Scientific America [online]

Collective bargaining typically has lots of time for breaks when the other party is composing a response to your latest proposal. When bargaining late, rather than use this time to focus on what might happen and how you can deal with a range of possible outcomes, it is better to do something you enjoy as a break. Don’t waste your focus on things that don’t impact the negotiations. That way you will have the cognitive energy to deal with the next proposal when the other team comes back.

Rule 4: Plan Ahead

Spontaneity is great in many facets of life; negotiations is not one of those facets. Bargaining late should be planned well in advance of the proposed session and work should be done to prepare prior to the session.


Collective bargaining is conducted by people acting on behalf of other actors. The negotiations for a collective agreement works better if the parties at the table like each other, however even if you don’t like each other, avoiding disrespect is paramount to avoiding a colossal breakdown. Part of that respect is communicating clearly if you are planning on going late. This allows the representatives of the parties to deal with their non work commitments so they can focus on the task at hand.

Evaluate Options

I avoid bottom lines. Having a bottom line can hurt creativity. I do recommend that anyone negotiating have an idea of how they value the items that are under negotiation. If you have followed my advice so far and you are negotiating late into the night, you have narrowed the field of issues somewhat and you have a decent idea of what your other’s interests are. Prior to the witching hour, it is useful for your team to review how they value the range of possible outcomes of each issue. This review should be done in writing ahead of the late night session. When the other party makes an offer you can use your review to gauge the deal. This strategy helps combat the other side merely wearing you down or taking advantage of a period of weakness.

Bargaining late is typically done close to the conclusion of negotiations. It can be an effective way to finish a negotiation. The key is to not get worn out and following the 4 steps above will help with that. A word of caution before you suggest a late night session or two: if the parties haven’t practiced bargaining late before, be clear on what no deal at the end of the night (or early morning) means. Often parties assume that going late means staying until you have crafted a deal. If your intention is to conclude the negotiation that’s ok, just make sure you are clear with your other.

Let Us Help

Negotiating collective agreements is hard work. We can help. If you are already in the negotiation process and the parties need help, mediation can find value and help get the deal done. If you are just starting the process and your team needs training, strategy consultation or a lead negotiator we can help. Contact us for more information.

Posted in Negotiation.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: What Mediators can Learn from Navy Seals •

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *