How to Break Through the Paralysis of Impasse

Jul 3, 2019

Impasse, defined as a situation in which no progress is possible, a deadlock—often the result of opposing viewpoints or a disagreement.

Better known as “being stuck.”

It happens in business, in life, in relationships.

It can feel like an unsurmountable wall, so what do you do?

In the Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday cites a Zen parable about a king who has a large bolder strategically placed on the road into the city. His goal? To determine which subjects would tackle the obstacle and which would simply give up and turn away.

To the king’s disappointment, many people come and go. He is therefore quite surprised when a humble peasant enters the scene. The old man tirelessly strains to remove the giant rock, only to discover, there beneath it, a purse of gold coins and a note from the king which reads:

The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within
every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.

So, it is with impasse.

The message obviously being that when we give up, we automatically lose. The gold lies in the journey around or through the obstacle. When no progress is being made, the wise man recognizes impasse as opportunity.

The Way Beyond

1. What is the obstacle that is creating an impasse?

Give it a name, and it starts to lose power over you. Lean into it and reframe it as opportunity. Ask yourself: What needs to change? What is my part in the change that needs to occur? Where do I need to be more, better, different?

Stop gathering evidence for being right. When you lay down your need to be right, something new will emerge in the system. The impasse will be lifted.

2. Have a Clear Vision for the Desired Outcome.

Impasse is often smothered by ego. It is the ego that paralyzes our thinking and keeps us from seeing opportunity. If you’ve reached an impasse in a situation, it’s likely that your desired outcome is quite different from what the other party wants.

Or, maybe it’s a situation that has you overwhelmed. Either way, ego can cloud your thinking. Clearly define the outcome you are seeking. What is the greater opportunity you imagine? Be empowered by what could be instead of paralyzed by what currently is.

3. Practice Open Communication.

Avoid language that makes the other parties wrong. Seek ways to express your vision as you lean into the desired outcomes of others. Ask questions. Be curious enough to really hear what they are asking.

Within the giant boulder of disagreement, there is a golden nugget of agreement. Listen for it. Find it. Acknowledge core differences with respect. Avoid compromise as it will only make you and the other person feel as though each has lost something. Rather, practice communication strategies that will support the opportunity you both envision.

Impasse is a clear indication that change is in the air. Whether you’re experiencing this with a colleague, close friend or relative, or in your business, the way beyond is through. There are no shortcuts. Turning back isn’t an option. Not if you want to step into greater opportunity.

Moving through impasse requires a deep dive into who you are and what needs to change within you. While you may not have control over the person or the situation that has created the impasse, you always have control of your response.

Shift from seeing impasse as an obstacle. See it as an opportunity to step into something beyond yourself.

Watch the magic unfold.

Question of the Week:

What’s the biggest impasse you’ve ever experienced? What did you learn about yourself as you moved through it?

Shoot me an email as I’d love to hear your response: