“What else can we do?” I asked my agent. “He sounds pretty stubborn on this point.”
“I’m not sure,” my agent responded. “Let’s give it some thought. I pride myself on my creativity and coming up with nontraditional ways to resolve parties’ differences. Let’s put on our thinking caps and see how we might solve this problem.”
Creativity in generating solutions to problems is often the key to a successful negotiation. Yet few approach this creative option-generating process in a particularly effective way.
So how can we systematically unleash our creative juices?
In the classic negotiation book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” co-authors Roger Fisher and William Ury show us the way.
First, they suggest: Separate the process of inventing possible options from deciding which ones you prefer. “Invent first, decide later,” they write. Start by generating as many possible options as you can and getting them all out onto the table.
And do it in an organized way. Gather some colleagues and brainstorm. In brainstorming, though, wait to evaluate the options until after they’ve all been generated. Judging the options on the table at the beginning will inhibit participants’ creativity and will be counterproductive.
Second, they recommend that you “broaden your options.” Don’t assume that you know or will find the “best” answer or the perfect solution. And certainly don’t get overly wedded to any one solution.
Instead, generate as many possible options as you can. Then find more. The more options on the table, the more likely you will find ones that satisfy the parties’ interests.
How can you do this? Keep asking your colleagues during your brainstorming session “what else can we do?” This effective phrase – used at least several times during brainstorming – likely will spawn your colleagues’ creativity and generate more options.
Sometimes, you even will want to brainstorm with your counterparts. I’ve been in numerous negotiations where our counterpart suggested our best option. You may be surprised at how often this will occur.
Third, Fisher and Ury suggest you “look for mutual gain.” Don’t assume a fixed pie exists and that more for the other side is necessarily less for you. Instead, creatively look for ways that will allow both sides to “win.” Find those shared and compatible interests. Search for ways the agreement will be “win-win.” It will be time well spent.
Finally, Fisher and Ury recommend that you “make their decision easy.” Put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes and find ways to make that person’s decision as easy as possible. Don’t focus on what you want. Focus on what your counterpart wants and how you might present an option that satisfies your counterpart’s needs and interests.
Invent options, broaden them, identify mutual interests, and make their decision easy.
This four-step process, outlined in “Getting to Yes,” will help you to more effectively and creatively generate solutions to many negotiation problems.
But let me add one more: Don’t reject an alternative option-generating process if it works for you. There is no one universal template for effectively drawing out the creativity in all people. Some find brainstorming to be effective. Others find it frustrating.
The key is this: Find a way that will help release your creativity. Then use it when you’re preparing for your negotiations.
I thought we had reached an impasse. Fortunately, I was wrong. My agent found a way to bridge the gap between our proposal and their counter.
In short, her creativity carried the day.
Published December 6, 2002 The Business Journal