Creativity as a success factor in negotiations

Mercedes Costa. Director of the Negotiation and Mediation Centre at Instituto de Empresa

23 June 2003

Being able to negotiate well should be everyone’s aspiration nowadays. Nearly every activity in daily life involves some sort of negotiation, way of dealing with disagreements, or some manner of resolving interests in conflict.

As citizens in an advanced society with access to information and culture, we should be educated to be ready to confront others’ opinions or motivations, with the respect and curiosity of one who knows his or her goals and feels capable of negotiating to attain them.

That curiosity and respect, together with the ability to build, with the opposite party, the best possible solutions for both sides, opens our mind to creativity and enrichment.

However, we are not usually so inclined. We were not educated that way. Generally, we approach others with the one and only possible solution, thought through beforehand, and feel afraid and aggressive when faced with points of view diverging from ours. On most occasions, we have a one-dimensional view of reality and are incapable of admitting that, for any fact or issue, there are multiple questions or dimensions to be analyzed and debated.

This closed profile is recognizable, not only in discussions and debates between inexpert citizens, but in behavior of those responsible for important negotiations in politics, business and law. The fact is that in any scenario where the object of negotiation is one sole variable, it is more difficult to use creativity to generate options when attempting to increase the size of the cake to be divided up.

In such cases, negotiators become mere “value seekers” and find themselves trapped in a win/lose negotiation where it is difficult to avoid a climate of confrontation and lack of cooperation. Skilful negotiators avoid falling into this kind of competitive bargaining and strive to introduce additional questions to transform them into negotiations on multiple issues, where it is possible to seek a range of creative solutions that marry the interests of the parties in conflict.

We must however accept that, on many occasions, it is not possible to avoid negotiation on a single question. Even in some discussions on multiple issues, what really exists is one single underlying question. Both in the sale of a house and in negotiating a job dismissal or loan, the overriding issue is money, for example.

All these negotiations contain a degree of bargaining that improves considerably with the introduction of additional questions. Such questions allow parties to explore the creation of joint gain that benefits both sides. This does not mean that the distributive aspect of the negotiation disappears. All negotiations entail elements of cooperation and conflict.

Mistakes frequently made in this kind of negotiation are:

· Focusing exclusively on price, converting deals that could be cooperative into competitive ones. In such cases, negotiation turns into a haggling match.

· Measuring results in purely economic terms. Many factors exist that, if skilfully managed, help create value at the negotiating table: the interests of the different parties, the relationship that exists or should exist between them and the process itself.

· Lack of creativity when introducing variables that could allow the negotiation to deal with other issues to permit joint gains.

· Lunging prematurely towards a compromise, without devoting time and effort to creation of value during the negotiation process.

To avoid such errors, negotiators must be capable of juggling two difficult tools: strong creativity and effective interpersonal communication.

· Remember that creativity consists in perceiving reality in different manners that prove unusual or infrequent. This prism multiplies the colors, shades and options of any fact or issue, making it possible to achieve joint creation of solutions.

· Interpersonal Communication can be a fast lane along which dialogue can freely flow, or enable us to listen attentively to others’ ideas and persuade interlocutors of our position. These are all factors that provide the natural setting for achieving the goals of the negotiation.

In negotiations involving multiple requests however, it proves much simpler for the parties to exchange variables. Nonetheless, successful strategy means a different approach, depending who is formulating the requests and who is receiving them.

Key factors to be taken into account, depending on which side we are on, are:

For the party making requests:

· Negotiate one request at a time. One global negotiation is not in your interest.

· Be aware that it is necessary to divide your proposal as much as possible.

Aim high with your initial requests, but neither scandalously so, nor too moderate. The idea is to provoke the following reaction from the other party: “It is a little more than we had anticipated, but we can discuss it”.

· When you finish, remain silent and wait for a reply.

For the party listening to requests:

· Listen to requests made by the other party without replying to each on an individual basis.

· Close the list of desired goals.

· Evaluate the proposal on a global basis and offer a reply to the other’s goals also on a global basis.

· On occasions, negotiate the procedure by which all this will be carried out.

In any negotiation process, we should be able to identify beforehand the playing field on which we are going to move, to foresee the strategy to be adopted in each case. Success will depend on the parties’ capacity to come up with a range of creative solutions that can satisfy to the maximum the different interests involved.

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