Action-Forcing Mechanisms

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

deadline3Concept description

Action-forcing mechanisms are external events or stipulations created in the course of negotiation or mediation that are designed to force parties to take steps toward reaching or implementing an agreement.

Writing in Beyond Intractability, Brad Spangler (reference below) quotes Michael Watkins and Susan Rosegrant (reference below):

“Action-forcing events are clear breakpoints [in negotiation], imposed by outside forces or by the actions of negotiators, that force some or all of the participants to make hard choices or incur substantial costs.”

Spangler notes that deadlines are classic examples of action-forcing mechanisms, and are the most common way to manipulate time in order to induce a settlement.

“Deadlines may be necessary because a party is purposely using stall tactics to delay reaching agreement. Deadlines may also be incorporated into agreements to ensure that parties do what they are supposed to do to carry out an agreement’s conditions. Sometimes, the goal of setting a deadline is to break a stalemate or deadlock in which parties are not willing or able to work out an agreement. The longer parties remain deadlocked, the more likely it is that any trust they have developed will break down. Given this, it is best to take steps toward breaking the deadlock as soon as possible. Deadlines can also help force parties to start working in a more constructive manner toward resolution. However, setting hasty deadlines can be dangerous as parties may come up with an agreement that is impossible to implement, because they were rushing to get it done.”

“Many settlements are reached just before a deadline, a phenomenon called “the deadline effect” or “the eleventh hour effect.” This refers to the common occurrence of parties waiting until the last hours before the deadline to make concessions, hoping the other side will concede first. But if that doesn’t happen, then both sides begin serious negotiating right before the deadline, as they still think that an agreement is superior to none. An approaching deadline may prompt a party to change the bottom line of what they are willing to accept, making an agreement possible when it was not possible before.

“The deadline effect sometimes leads parties to alter their goals. Initially, parties may have competitive, individualistic goals. The need to meet a deadline encourages disputants to put aside their individualistic concerns and reach agreement. This change of heart may occur because the party does not want to lose out on the possible benefits of a cooperative group agreement. However, individualistic actions prior to the deadline can cause problems. If competitive concerns are revealed only when the group is near agreement, these can derail the process. To avoid this problem, it is best to make sure that individual concerns are openly discussed long before the deadline. Another option is to set a flexible deadline, which can be extended if the parties become serious about negotiating near the end of the time limit. But if they are still deadlocked, the deadline can be kept necessary.”


Brad Spangler (2003), Action-Forcing Mechanisms, Beyond Intractability, at, accessed 25 March 2016. The article references Michael Watkins and Susan Rosegrant, Breakthrough International Negotiation: How Great Negotiators Transformed The World’s Toughest Post-Cold War Conflicts (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2001); Christopher Moore, The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, 2nd Edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996; Heidi Burgess and Guy M. Burgess, Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (Denver: ABC-CLIO, 1997); Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy, Managing Public Disputes (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988); Lawrence Susskind and Jeffrey Cruikshank, Breaking the Impasse: Consensual Approaches to Resolving Public Disputes (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1987; Roy J. Lewicki and others, Negotiation, 3rd Edition (San Francisco: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1999).

Atlas topic and subject

Negotiating (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 25 March 2016.

Image: River City Umps,, accessed 25 March 2016.