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

Decide early as you prepare for an important negotiation, does the situation call for you to compete, collaborate, compromise, avoid or accommodate. All strategies have a time & place.


Follow us on Twitter

Negotiation Blog

Check Your Negotiator Blind Spots

By Thomas Wood

Did you ever have a negotiation where you felt well prepared going in, but during the discussions you became frustrated? For most of us, frustration brings out our worst instincts and behaviors, ultimately leading to a poor outcome.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you see if you were held back by any of the common negotiator blind spots.

Answer Yes or No: 
  1. Are you good at picking your battles?
  2. Do you consider it a successful resolution if you get everything you or your company wants without making concessions?
  3. Do you think that usually the best solutions come from the options offered by you or the other parties at the start of the negotiation?
  4. Do you tire of listening to the other side’s version of events and perspective on their own needs, and prefer moving forward with the agenda?
  5. Do you value objectivity and pride yourself on sticking to the facts in your negotiations?
  6. Do you act in a certain way to ensure people know you are a strong negotiator?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions above, you may be suffering from one of the common negotiator blind spots. While teaching our negotiation workshops, we have found that participants often fall prey to these blind spots:

Battle Alert: He believes that it is important to pick his battles because negotiations are battles. He does not believe that a win-win outcome is actually possible, and thus approaches every interaction as a competition.

  • Attitude is everything in collaborative negotiations! Enter your next negotiation as a discussion, and you may find the battle never was.

Give nothing/get nothing: She figured out what was fair long before the two parties started talking. She wants to achieve her goal, and show that she is a strong negotiator by giving nothing away.

  • Negotiation is about getting, AND giving. Good negotiators come prepared to give concessions. You may get everything and give nothing, but don’t fool yourself. The party that feels "taken" will find a way to get it back.

There’s only one way to skin a cat: He has an idea of what will satisfy his counterpart, and has listened carefully to his counterpart’s idea. Both ideas were part of the opening offers. One of these ideas will win the day, or perhaps parts of each idea. Let’s decide and move on.

  • The best ideas result from discourse, not solo genius. Very rarely does our first idea prove to be the best. Take comfort in knowing that the 3rd crazy suggestion might lead to a novel approach that is more mutually satisfying to the parties.

Can you hear me listening?: She has listened so much that she tires of the other side talking. Her counterpart feels that he hasn’t been heard. Was she listening loudly enough?

  • Listening is not a silent or passive activity. It involves attitude, body language and follow-up that convince the other side you wanted to hear what they had to say. Sometimes, active listening – sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation and asking relevant follow-up questions – is the largest concession you will have to give.

Just the facts, ma’am: He prides himself on his objectivity. The numbers tell it all. We just have to stick to the facts and the negotiation will progress.

  • People, not institutions, negotiate. People have history – his-story. Some stories are personal (ego, mood, fears), and some stories arise from circumstances. Ask for your counterpart’s story, and tell yours. Stories engage, leading to more open discussion and mutually satisfying solutions.

Never let ‘em see you sweat: She feels intimidated by her counterpart’s experience or reputation. He’s known to get what he wants. She intends to show him from the start that she’s no pushover and is tough as nails.

  • Reciprocity is an ancient concept. You be bad and he be bad back. The best way to set the tone is to prove yourself as a worthy negotiator. Prove you did your homework. Prove you came to listen, learn, and give. Prove you can be creative. Prove you can be trusted. Your best leverage is your skill as a negotiator.

These natural inclinations and defenses can blind us from success in our negotiations. See clearly now.

Negotiating Tip

Three easy ways to build trust: Listen as an ally, show sincere appreciation for your counterpart’s efforts, and make (but link) concessions.


Follow us on Twitter

Negotiation Blog

Why did the negotiator cross the road?

By Marianne Eby

Negotiations are serious business, which is why it is important to understand, and build trust with, the other party. Great negotiators know that no matter how serious the interaction, laughter is often one of the quickest paths to trust; it can relieve tension, create a bond, improve everyone's moods, and foster the creativity you want for mutually beneficial agreements to emerge.

Researchers in many fields, from medicine to psychology to communications, are increasingly interested in the social power of humor and the physical and emotional benefits of laughter. Public speakers are trained to open presentations with jokes or funny anecdotes. Political candidates are now expected to demonstrate their sense of humor on the talk show circuit to improve their likeability. In 2010 Comedian John Stewart was voted the "most trusted man in America." His social power derives from the fact that he is knowledgeable and funny, which makes him seem more trustworthy.  

A sense of humor is useful during all phases of negotiation as well -- to signal confidence or shift power, to change the environment, to soften bad news, to avoid answering a question, to respond to a ridiculous offer, or to save face.

Telling a funny story or acceptable joke can also help you gauge whether the other party is on the same page with you. If the other side is not laughing, or even engaging in a joking conversation, pay attention: they are not where you hope they are. Not laughing in response to a humorous gesture is a sign of discomfort or disconnection.

So prepare with ice-breakers -- anecdotes or jokes that get a group to laugh before you begin bargaining.

Try these tips for opening an interaction with humor:

Tell a story on yourself: People love to laugh at absurd but real events. Carol Burnett famously said "comedy is tragedy plus time." A story you tell about yourself makes you more human.

Don't take yourself too seriously. Keep the humor light, and your expectations for laughter down. Nothing kills an attempt to develop rapport more than someone who can't laugh at him or herself. Mildly self-deprecating jokes imply trust.

Collect a few jokes that work for you. They're easy to find or to collect. Good storytellers and comedians prepare material in advance, to avoid hitting the wrong note, and to be ready to hit the right one.

What to avoid:

  • Stories and jokes about race, culture, gender, religion, politics, or hometowns
  • Offensive material
  • Sarcasm
  • Targeting something sensitive about them you discovered by being empathetic (don't overuse empathy!)
  • Stories or jokes that require long, complex setups, or special insider knowledge
  • Telling a joke if you are not good at it
  • Jokes that rely on an exact understanding of your language

Sometimes puns (ambiguous play on words with multiple meanings) can be fun – just make sure your humor is understood. Let’s say you’re in a tense negotiation and everyone is frustrated. You might say:

“Does any one feel the way I do? Trying to figure out a solution that satisfies us all is like getting ready for a root canal – it’s unnerving!”

Keep these guidelines in mind for successful humorous stories and jokes:

  • Make them modest, not ambitious
  • Keep them short -- avoid a long setup!
  • Try to be topical -- find a story or joke that's relevant to the negotiation at hand, a recent press story, your travel, etc.
  • Be yourself!

Be real. Leverage your own style and personality. Be willing to laugh. See how it changes your negotiation results!

Negotiating Tip

"In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony."  Theodore E. Steinway


Follow us on Twitter

Negotiation Blog

All that jazz: it's negotiation too

By Marianne Eby

What do the best negotiators and jazz musicians have in common? That question is inspired by a recent article on CNN Opinion: “What the best jazz musicians and business brains have in common.” The argument made, not surprisingly, is that business leaders are more successful when they are open to possibilities rather than stuck on certainties, and when they are empowered to improvise. Good negotiators know how critical this insight is to what they do.

We teach and write about the importance of creativity as a game-changer in negotiations, and the need for improvisation as a skill at the bargaining table.  But here are three deeper parallels between great jazz and great negotiation:

Exchange: In jazz, particularly in rehearsal, the musicians exchange musical ideas, take cues from each other, and find new paths through a melody or score. The more experienced they are, and the better they know their instruments and their partners, the more possibilities there are in the music. In collaborative negotiation, similarly, preparation is essential, but then bargaining is a genuine exchange, where the unexpected can happen, and new ideas develop. Open-minded listening, asking questions, and paying attention to the other party's real interests can lead to creative concessions and counter-offers that bring new value to the bargaining table. In negotiation, as in jazz, "Improvisation grows out of a receptivity to what the situation offers."

Learning and finding new value: In jazz improvisation musicians learn more about the music -- about the melody, their instruments, their partners. Similarly, in a good collaborative negotiation both parties learn more about their own and each other's businesses. A creatively handled conflict between a buyer's terms and a seller's bottom line can bring in new elements of value: a seller might offer a new packaging or delivery method, innovative payment terms, a valuable training program. Buyers might offer sources of new business, coveted tickets to a game. A good negotiator, like a jazz musician, finishes an exchange with an expanded understanding of their own and the other party's value.

The relationship: Another facet of the parallel between jazz musicians and great negotiators is that both understand the core value of the relationship. Jazz musicians treat music as something that is only fully achieved with and in relation to another musician -- they know that "creativity is a collaborative achievement," as Barrett puts it. Similarly, good negotiators know that one of the most valuable products of a collaborative negotiation is often the collaborative relationship itself.

In jazz musicians as in great negotiators, creativity and improvisation are not just skills or tactics, but they represent a whole mindset, or philosophy of negotiating: a collaborative negotiation itself finds or creates new value, just as an interactive, collaborative jazz performance creates new music.  So let's jazz up our negotiating!

Negotiating Tip

Nodding and tilting your head at regular intervals encourages people to expand on their comments while signaling that you are interested and involved.


Follow us on Twitter

Negotiation Blog

Top 5 Negotiation Lessons from Summer Vacation

By Marianne Eby

Like me, many of you are returning from summer vacation. You relaxed, explored, and played. But you didn’t sharpen your negotiation saw. Or did you? Without realizing, you likely practiced your negotiation skills, and upped our negotiation quotient.  Here’s my Top 5 negotiation lessons from summer vacation:

  1. Have confidence in the process. 
    Almost two thirds of Americans work during summer vacation, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. .  We know we have to work, at least some, while we’re gone.  And yet, we go, with confidence in the value of vacation -- expecting we will come back refreshed for a positive impact on our lives. We should go into negotiations the same -- confident that if we follow a disciplined process, we will achieve predictable and repeatable results that create value for both parties. 
     
  2. Be creative. 
    Vacation presented us opportunities to play outside the sandbox. In a new place our personality wasn’t known, so we experimented with our approach or style to get the results we wanted. We experienced new things: different foods, new ways of taking photos, other cultures. Being creative with our choices allowed us to discover new things. Being creative in a negotiation allows us to find new solutions to difficult issues.
     
  3. Adjust your style and build rapport.
    People we had to deal with on vacation were unfamiliar -- hotel desk clerks, beach patrol, waiters, tour guides, friends of friends. Naturally we wanted a pleasant experience, so we explored common areas of interest to build rapport. And because so much was new and different on vacation, we asked lots of questions. Because we were sincerely curious, we listened well to the answers. Some of these people even made it into our virtual rolodex. Think of your negotiation counterpart similarly. Adjusting your style to the situation or person, and making a personal connection, builds trust. And as we all know, building trust allows both parties to share their true interests, and find hidden value in negotiations.
     
  4. Plan, Propose options, and develop alternatives.
    Most of us planned our vacations more thoroughly than we plan most negotiations – hotel reservations, addresses to enter into our GPS, must-go concert tickets. We knew the budget we wanted to keep and the money and time limits we could not exceed. When different members of our family were unhappy with the offering, we proposed options. We suggested a willingness to hike the long trail today if everyone would get up early for kayaking tomorrow. Indeed, one of the best negotiation practices is to offer options. People stay involved when they have to respond to options.  And on vacation we thought of backup plans if rain stole a beach day. Our vacation /learning-center-item/batna.htmlBATNA! Without knowing it, we practiced our negotiations skills on vacation!
     
  5. Take breaks.
    We took breaks to relax – mini-vacations within a vacation. Relaxing gave us time to reflect and rethink our needs and priorities, or to calm friction from too much time with family and friends. Taking breaks during negotiations is equally beneficial. Time away allows issue clarification, a chance to reset the emotional climate, and check in with stakeholders. Taking a breather is rarely a step back; more often it provides a renewed vigor  to work toward common goals.

We’re refreshed upon our return from vacation. And without realizing it, we honed our negotiation skills in the process. Be sure to apply those summer lesson to your next negotiation.

Negotiating Tip

It’s easy to lose your cool when negotiating. Taking three deep breaths will quickly calm you down. Now you can think clearly again.


Follow us on Twitter

Negotiation Blog

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

Always thank them.


Follow us on Twitter

How to Get in Touch with Watershed Associates