Negotiation Blog

Creativity: The game changer in negotiations

By Marianne Eby

Creativity is essential to reaching mutually beneficial solutions in negotiations. Most people are actually more comfortable arguing or convincing others to accept their ideas than they are using creativity to generate win-win solutions. Creativity requires the ability to take risks, be open to ideas, defer criticisms, and empathize. Are you scared to be creative?

Researcher George Land conducted a study that showed we start as extremely creative individuals and lose most of it. Land distributed a creativity test (the same one used by NASA to select innovative engineers and scientists) to 1,600 5-year-olds, and re-tested the same children at age 10, and again at age 15. He also gave the same test to 280,000 adults. The results below demonstrate that the majority of people become less creative as they mature.

Age (years)

Highly Creative

5 98%
10 30%
15 12%
Adults 2%

Some blame our educational systems for derailing our abilities to: take risks, be open to new ideas, generate loose connections, and empathize. Steve Jobs, reflecting on his first three years as a student of Monta Loma Elementary, commented:

“I was kind of bored for the first few years, so I occupied myself by getting into trouble…I encountered authority of a different kind than I ever encountered before and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”

Quoted from Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs (a great read on creativity and negotiations). Indeed a number of educational systems focus on one correct answer, which actively discourages imagining different results. Regardless of the cause, we can overcome this challenge and reengage with our inner child’s imagination.

One way to keep the creativity alive in your negotiations is to focus on defining each party's interests, and then listing all possible options that meet those interests without any criticism regarding resources, feasibility, etc. This part of a negotiation should be like the brainstorming you did as a 5-year old, where you were encouraged to imagine that anything was possible. Harnessing this unencumbered imagination during a negotiation requires people to recognize that every idea is a valid option so that the third zany idea eventually leads to the brilliant seventh idea that is mutually beneficial.

A client related an example of this type of brainstorming. Samantha’s communications team was meeting with their IT colleagues to determine how to support a client's new website. Some of the IT team’s participants started to suggest ideas about changing the existing website design, and a communications team member commented that it would be too burdensome for the client. The group started arguing about the resources it would take to support different designs. Samantha called a halt, and suggested they brainstorm ideas based on the client’s requirements, and leave the ‘resources’ issue until later.

“Stopping the flow of criticism allowed people to put themselves in the position of the client, ask better questions, and envision innovative solutions. It helped the team realize that the website could be designed to meet the client’s needs without changing most of the interface. This was something nobody had anticipated when the meeting started and totally changed the game.”

The next time you see others being critical of ideas during a brainstorming session, convince the group to focus on the interests and then use it as a way to build creativity within the group. This will lead to the best ideas surfacing during a discussion. Here are some tips on brainstorming from Mind Tools.

Negotiating Tip

 “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make them my friend?" Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President, 1861-1865


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Negotiation Blog

Six Halloween Tips to Unmask the Hardball Negotiator

By Marianne Eby

Do you ever feel like your negotiating counterparts are wearing the same Halloween masks that show up trick-or-treating at your door? Are the mad rush of negotiations in your business to spend year-end budgets and internally as you plan for the next fiscal year really any different than what goes on among the children’s back-room deals over their stashes of candy? Here are 6 tricks (or tips) to unmask the hardball negotiator.

Tomorrow night Halloween in the US evokes images of costumed children asking to trade a trick for a treat – the trick is they are masked as real and fantasy characters and in exchange they want lots of candy – a trade at the heart of every negotiation. With a strong commercial foothold in the US and Canada, this strange bargaining called Halloween has spread in recent decades to parts of Europe and Asia, and is also popular in Latin America.

Halloween celebrations permeate the US culture. More than $7 billion was spent on Halloween last year and about 74% of adults celebrate this holiday, defined by costumes, masks, and out of bounds behavior.  Businesses and professionals often consider how to participate in the late October frenzy, since employees and customers experience and relish Halloween as a community celebration. In offices and schools and neighborhoods, in big and small businesses, in penthouses and party rooms, in C-suites and hotel suites, Halloween fun and zany antics are planned, encouraged, enjoyed.

For most businesses, there's also a scene behind Halloween. Often, late October marks the beginning of the end of the annual business cycle. Wrap-up issues are on the table, and plans are being made for the upcoming year. And if your house is like mine on Halloween night, the real bargaining goes on after the candy is collected, when the kids spread out their winnings and begin to trade. That's when we see the real masked characters using the best and worst of negotiating behaviors to get what they want!

Even if the Halloween fete and the year closing create a tension of opposing demands, deals will get closed. For example, while we are spending $1.2 billion annually on Halloween costumes, $85.5 billion is also being spent on computers. Corporate negotiators are working computer deals, equipment leases, supply contracts, phone usage and supplier agreements that keep businesses running, while $21.5 billion in candy passes from hand to mouth.  Company representatives in all corners of the world commute their own shares of the $85 billion computer spending, or source and set prices for personnel who can create and support the internet architecture that will permit a share of the $255.5 billion in annual on-line sales.  (Data source)

Negotiating is never frivolous and is not always sweet. The scary part is when our negotiating counterparts come to the bargaining table wearing their Halloween masks.  We find ourselves faced with people dressed up as superheroes, who want to play “hardball.”

Hardball negotiators use tactics to distract, manipulate, or trick us into moving off our position.  They believe that they can win more by playing hardball than by collaborating to create value. The hardball negotiator wears masks – meaning they don’t share their interests – why they want what they want, and don’t care about our interests – why we want what we want.

We want to make a deal, and our hardball counterparts seem only to be willing to make their deal.  We are looking for flexibility, and our counterparts seem determined, inflexible, even intimidating.  Whether we are are sales or procurement or management, trying to meet quotas, move excess inventory, or gain savings from volume and vendor choice, hardball counterparts are entrenched in their position and tactics.

In the spirit of this Halloween season, consider these responses to the hardball negotiator:

  1. Consider the tactic what it is – just a trick for a treat. Compliment your counterpart for their tough negotiating style as you would the costumed child at your door. Then suggest you are likely to give better concessions if you can get a commitment to collaborate. Once people make a commitment to be cooperative, most feel bound by it. Remember that their inflexibility is just a costume that can be removed.
  2. Model collaborative behavior by asking questions to discover your counterpart’s interests. Then offer to address any interests you learn about if they are willing to shift to a collaborative approach.
  3. Label the hardball tactic (not the person). For example, when they tell you their boss won't go for it, respond, “I see you've brought your bad cop in the room today. I could bring mine in too, or we could just get back to discussing possible solutions.” Then Probe, with sincere curiosity. Same if they tell you that discussing options is no use because they don't have any authority to commit to a different solution. You should say something like -- "We both have limited authority and for good reason; now let's talk possibilities so you can go back and get the authority you need."
  4. Negotiate the ground rules. Propose that the parties step back and mutually determine how negotiations are to be conducted, building in discussions of challenges and possibilities, proposals, brainstorming, counterproposals, etc.
  5. Co-opt them. Become friendly. It is always more difficult to attack/deceive a friend than an opponent. Ask yourself: Was rapport built in Exchange stage or did you skip it? Can you step back and build rapport now or interweave it throughout the remainder of bargaining?
  6. Respond in kind. For example, when the other side opens with an outrageous offer (high or low), respond with an equally outrageous counteroffer, and a smile. This works well if they are simply testing YOUR resolve, or if they are bluffing. If they see you are also skilled in hardball tactics, they may try these strategies to get you to be more collaborative. But be warned, people have a tendency to reciprocate negative behaviors more than positive behaviors.

As we begin closing our current year and preparing for the upcoming year, our negotiating teams can benefit from reviewing the collaborations and hardball negotiations we’ve encountered, just as we review our numbers.  Remember to assess strategies to disarm the masked negotiator, since collaborative negotiations create bigger wins for all of us.

Negotiating Tip

Commitment is what each side agreed that it will do or not do. Commitments should be Practical, Durable, Understood by all, & Verifiable.

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What do the NFL Super Bowl, Cheerios, and Puppies Have in Common with Negotiating?

By Marianne Eby

I admit to not  knowing much about football despite my son's love of the game. To me it looks more like a bunch of athletes who get paid a lot of money to ram into each other until one team trounces the other. Let's face it -  I’m a negotiator who believes in win-win more than win-lose. So it’s no surprise that I was paying more attention to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII advertisements on Sunday than to the game. And what did this super negotiator see? The deal of the century!

And I’m not talking about one of the many deals in the $10B enterprise that is the National Football League (NFL). I'm talking about the now famous Cheerios commercial. Sunday’s NFL Super Bowl XLVIII Cheerios commercial taught in 30 seconds (and paid $4M for the privilege of doing so) what every good negotiator knows - trades come in all breeds.

Here’s how Forbes describes that commercial, a father at the breakfast table with his little girl, Gracie, using the addition of one Cheerios at a time to demonstrate that there is going to be a new family member (and thus one more Cheerio added to the pile):

“The Epiphany:  After the baby brother announcement, the subtle pregnant pause. Gracie’s actor qualities rise to impressive levels to tug at your heart at this point.  The frown-pause moment is followed by the epiphany, “and a dog”. Translated: ‘If he’s sweet talking me like this, he must want my approval. That must mean I have some bargaining power – (and what do I have to lose, the little guy his coming anyway). I can use this event to broker and barter a deal. If I have to put up with a babbling infant that cuts into my time and resources, I can now use my unprecedented leverage get what I want in return.’ ”

Opportunities to trade come in all sizes and shapes and sometimes out of the blue, so seize them when you can and everybody wins! The little girl seizes the moment and in her own way (by adding a Cheerios to the family pile of course) makes it clear that family tranquility has a price – a puppy she can call her own. Caught off guard, the dad declares “Deal.”

And Cheerios gave a final negotiation lesson before its 30 seconds of air time was up – the camera turns to the pregnant mom, whose priceless facial expression makes it clear that dad forgot to check with his stakeholders before closing the deal.

The NFL is full of high stakes deal-making in the mega-millions, but this deal has lessons for players, owners and viewers alike. Think about what the other side will ask for before you start negotiating, seize opportunities to get what you want, and always know your stakeholders’ interests before you close the deal. 

Negotiating Tip

Prepare. Identify Most Desirable Outcomes, Goals, Least Acceptable Agreements, and Best Alternatives.

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Negotiation Blog

Negotiate #LikeAGirl, and don’t get Manterrupted!

By Marianne Eby

Two female power stories caught my woman negotiator’s eye this last month: The #LikeAGirl campaign gone viral after the US NFL's Super Bowl XLVIV, and Jessica Bennett’s Time Magazine article How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’. It's a one-two punch and we negotiators can learn a lot from both.

It’s difficult NOT to jump on the bandwagon of a popular Twitter hashtag when it really speaks to you. I watch the Super Bowl every year, and always find new insights, although not about football. See my 2014 blog on Super Bowl XLVIII Cheerios commercial of a young daughter’s negotiation with her dad that put most negotiators to shame. Academics and practitioners alike know children are the best negotiators – ask for what they want, persistent questioners, super curious, unafraid of “No”, and armed with an infinite supply of creative solutions.

2015’s Super Bowl inspired the "girl" negotiator in me with Always #LikeAGirl campaign, turning on its head the centuries old negative connotation that goes with doing anything “like a girl.” (i.e., you throw like a girl...and a hundred others.)

Some of my favorite 2015 hashtags trending for #LikeAGirl

Hunt Taliban from the Air #LikeAGirl

From General Electric: We can't solve the world's problems with only half the world's brain. Become an engineer.  #LikeAGirl 

International Space Station: Go to space #LikeAGirl! Two women are living and working aboard our @Space_Station

Neuroscientist and Gene Therapist  Jodi Mcbride: Perform neurosurgery #LikeAGirl

and of course

Watershed’s Negotiate #LikeAGirl

At Watershed, we train and coach amazing women negotiators at corporations around the world. We remind them that there are instincts and skills many women naturally possess that are the foundation for masterful negotiating – skills that we all (men and women) need to achieve Win-Win in our negotiations. We remind them to Negotiate #LikeAGirl:

  • Empathy – It’s not unusual in any ladies' hangout to hear the comment – “He totally lacks the empathy gene!” It’s not that males aren’t empathetic, but many have to work at it more. It doesn’t take much effort for most women, on the other hand, to step into the other side’s shoes. Negotiators need empathy, because until you can truly grasp what the other side needs and why they need it, you can’t make proposals that address those needs and achieve real value for both parties.
  • Intuition – How often have you heard someone say – trust your woman’s intuition? Everybody -- men and women -- has intuition – gut feelings – but women tend to have brain connections that assemble and decode diverse inputs more easily than men, and can therefore more easily capture unspoken messages. This special wiring enables us to recognize hidden fears and intents that may sabotage agreement if they aren’t dealt with.
  • Cooperation – Some researches claim that the female brain is wired for cooperation, thanks to ample amounts of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Females have more oxytocin, so if the researchers are right, women negotiators may be more likely to engage in the kind of collaboration that results in mutually beneficial agreements.
  • Active listening  – The research is not clear that men don’t listen well, but it is clear that women certainly perceive men don’t listen well. Deborah Tannen's early research in this area is renowned. Regardless whether men and women actually listen better or worse than the other, all negotiators must master the power of listening.

Personal Story
About 10 years into my legal career, I interviewed for my dream job outside of law, and knew immediately after the interview that I didn’t get the job because I added not one stimulating insight to the conversation. I had some great ideas, but just couldn’t get them in without interrupting the very talkative Vice President who interviewed me. I was shocked when I got offered the job the next day. Months later while on the job, the EVP was singing my praises to the VP, and I overheard that VP tell his boss – “I was so impressed with our conversation when she interviewed that I knew she was perfect for the job!”

I had clearly honed listening to a whole new level. But regardless of my unfortunate (or fortunate) excessive listening, active listening is a skill that can and should be developed by everyone. For better or worse, women negotiators may have the upper hand if like me, they can make people feel heard (a concession received in itself) just by listening.

To use and not be used by these natural female tendencies, women negotiators should take heed:

  • Watch out Empathizers! Don’t let empathy turn to sympathy and drive you to give away free gifts or change your proposal to be less advantageous to you!
  • Watch out Intuiters! Your intuition is just a clue and not a conclusion, so Probe with sincerity to uncover hidden motivations.
  • Watch out Listeners! Listening is helpful only if you take what you heard and respond to it with relevant ideas.
  • Watch out Cooperators! Cooperating can easily turn into accommodation or compromise when a collaborative strategy will provide greater benefit for all parties.

Each gender has it’s inherent strengths and often those strengths can lead to weaknesses, like my allowing that VP to talk my entire interview. Or as Jessica Bennett, award winning writer, editor and producer illustrates -- allowing ourselves and our female colleagues to be "manterrupted” or have our ideas “bro-propriated.” We’ve all been interrupted at meetings and had others take credit for the ideas we pose – men and women alike – but ask your mothers, sisters, female bosses, wives and girl friends if they think it happens a lot more to them than the men in your life think it happens to them.

Bennett refers to the recent New York Times op-ed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant:

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation of his fine idea.”

Bennett and her friends call this Manterrupting. Bennett proposes some great strategies, such as a imposing a general rule of no interruptions at meetings. She also proposes more targeted advice:

  • Bystanders nudging the male (or female) interrupter;
  • Women “avoid the baby voice and speak authoritatively” -- don’t hedge your ideas with “this may not work, but….”; and
  • Women should practice assertive body language (see Amy Cudy’s research on body language and how it can change other people’s perceptions and your own psyche).

Each gender has strengths and weaknesses. But Negotiating is not male or female – it’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas, and not interrupting each other. So to all women and men negotiators, I say Negotiate #LikeAGirl! 

Negotiating Tip

We feel smarter when talking. But studies show that people who listen more are usually considered to be smarter than people who talk a lot.

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What Negotiators Can Learn From Kids

By Thomas Wood

In our negotiation workshops, some of our favorite examples of effective negotiating strategies come from kids. They always get a laugh of recognition, because even our most experienced negotiators know that they can be outmaneuvered by a 4-year old.

There are countless parenting blogs and books devoted to negotiating with your kids, or avoiding negotiation with your kids -- all designed to help you handle the little wizards without losing your shirt. One blog, "Like A Dad," reviews a few common kid tactics as a way of helping parents recognize and prepare for them. But as negotiators, we need to ask -- what tactics can we learn from them?

Kids with caring parents do have a number of advantages over adult negotiators -- they won't do damage to their reputation if they are unprofessional, whiny, or outrageous in their demands. But here are five effective negotiation strategies kids use that we should too -- followed by a few we should leave to the less mature./learning-center-item/listen-loudly.html

Top Five Negotiating Strategies From Kids:

  • Think big. When my son was two, he heard the crinkling of a candy wrapper in my pocket. He said "candy?" I said "oh, would you like one?" He said "two." Kids ask for what they want, not for what they think you'll agree to. In fact, they have a good idea that you will not agree. They have no compunction about starting with their Most Desirable Outcome (MDO). If they want three cookies, they'll ask for five, then do the "incremental number drop." Aiming high is the key to beginning negotiations that will produce a satisfying outcome.
  • Don't take no for an answer. When kids hear "no," they get motivated, not discouraged. Kids often understand "no," or "time's up" as a signal to begin negotiating. You too should recognize "no" as a sign that you and your bargaining partner don't understand each other, and you need to ask more questions.
  • Be genuinely curious. Kids' love to ask the question "why?" not to drive you crazy, but because they really want to know. They keep asking questions, open-ended questions, with the same enthusiasm as their first question. Kids have infinite energy for questioning and testing the limits parents establish. I once told my son he couldn't do something dangerous that his sister had just done. After a little back and forth I offered the standard stumper, "if your sister jumped off a cliff, would you?" His answer: "how high is the cliff?" And then "could you slide down it?"
  • Be creative. My son's question about the cliff was so creative I had to hand it to him -- perhaps I even made a concession. Creativity always creates more -- more possibilities, more concession ideas, more value, more goodwill. If the other side sees that you thinking creatively about how to satisfy their real interests, you are more likely to get a concession and develop a good relationship. So nurture your childlike creativity, because research says that up to age 5, we are using about 85% of our creative power, but that by the age of 12, our creative output has shrunk to about 2% of our potential.
  • Play one parent off another, or, know who to ask. Kids know how to manage ALL the stakeholders. They know which parent is more likely to say yes to certain things, and will approach that parent first, then parlay any positive response into something that might persuade the second parent. Or, if both parents say no, kids will try a grandparent (the ultimate stakeholders) or an aunt or uncle if they can -- ideally one who will make an emotional, rather than a rational, decision. "Okay, you can take your bath after the movie instead." In business deals, you too need to try to find the person most likely to benefit from your deal, and start there. All of this requires knowledge of the other side and of their real interests. What we may call manipulative is just knowing how to use the difference between positions and interests. Example: "I know my TV time is up but this show is about nature, Dad, isn't it good for me to learn this?"

Childish Tactics to Avoid:

  • Pretending not to hear or understand. This is the ignoring tactic my kids use every day. It's an avoidance tactic, not a negotiating one, and it will not help you get what you want. If you have that impulse, recognize what it probably is: a need for clarification, for more time or for control of the timing in the negotiation process, and proceed from there.
  • Throwing tantrums or crying. Though there are arguments for occasionally using tantrums as a tactic, it is part of a competitive, rather than a collaborative negotiation strategy. In general such behavior alienates and ultimately loses business. Kids don't have to worry (too much) about what they'll lose from a tantrum, because the relationship with their caregivers is (hopefully) guaranteed.
  • Pretending to be sick -- just one of many ways kids have of playing on parents' sympathies and concerns, and not likely to be useful to a negotiator who wants to make more than one deal. It may work within your office to gain your boss' sympathy and concern, but not otherwise.

When I first became a parent, a final lesson from my mother: "Thomas, as a parent your goal is talk to your kids so they will listen. And listen to your kids so they will talk.

Negotiating Tip

Understand, access and address real interests and concerns – that is focus on WHY they want what they want, NOT on demands or positions. 

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