Creative Strategies To Solve Negotiation Problems
Apply creative negotiation strategies to solve negotiation problems.
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‘Ideas are the root of creation‘ Ernest Dimnet
We evolved because we were able to stand up and see above the tall, swaying grass. We could now see the predators that were stalking us, and hear them snarl in rage as their afternoon lunch deftly disappeared into an impenetrable thicket. Human beings were given opposable thumbs so they could nimbly manipulate the physical world around them into tools to defend themselves. Mostly though, we survived because we could think, create, and solve problems. Solving problems through creative thinking is perhaps our noblest trait as a species. Everyday we are inundated with dozens of problems that hound and harangue us, but we deal with them because of our need to do so. Negotiations present us with these same types of problem solving dilemmas. Often though, we solve these problems without fully understanding how we do so. There are other times when these challenging problems suddenly emerge out of nowhere like an insurmountable brick wall. These problems stymie our endeavours as we figuratively hammer our fists in frustration against its unyielding and impenetrable bulk until we surrender in exhaustion. Some people will figure a way to break through the wall, while others will find a means to scale the wall, or tunnel under. They solved the problem. The core of the creative negotiation strategies process is often achieved through problem solving. Let’s see how it works in all its forms so we add them to our arsenal of negotiating tools. There are several different creative strategies we can consider and use in solving our negotiating problems.
A solution to a problem can pop into our heads out of the blue like the symbolic ‘light bulb‘ or the blurted ‘Eureka!’ Without even thinking of the problem, the answer bursts into our mind while eating lunch or taking our morning shower. To understand how to make this approach work fully to our advantage, here is the four step process.
- Preparation – To solve a problem, we need to have all the information we can gather so that it can be completely digested. This information is important because we have to fully understand the nature of the problem to give it full definition.
- Incubation – After our preliminary attempts to resolve the problem have been unsuccessful, put the problem aside and forget about it. Go on to other activities. Let the problem tumble around in the back recesses of your unconscious mind.
- Illumination – That’s right – the light bulb has just clicked on as a possible solution pops into your head while you’re having your tea or watching a movie. It doesn’t always happen, but it does happen.
- Check it out – Don’t jump to a conclusion. It’s a possible solution, remember? It has to be checked out so we know it’s legitimate.
The Logical Approach
Logic is a system of reasoning and an excellent tool as a creative negotiation strategy to solve negotiation problems. Let’s follow the process below.
- Know the problem – Again, this is a vital step. We have to try and answer the following questions as best we can.
- What is known?
- What is unknown?
- What is the information we are using?
- What are our assumptions?
- Formulate a plan – Here, we have three choices in devising a plan to solve the problem. First, we can use our past experience to find a means to solve the problem. Second, we can try to seek out problems that are similar and see how they were solved by others. Third, we may need to restate or re-structure the nature of the problem and then consider any and all possible solutions.
- Follow out the plan – Our plan needs to be executed so it can be tested to see whether it works.
- Review – Here we should do a feed back loop so we can evaluate what we have learned, and determine whether some other means would have solved the problem.
Caution – Be on guard and ask yourself whether you have fallen for any of these traps that might skew your efforts at problem solving.
- Jumping to a conclusion – We want to have a solution. The problem is that our egos often evaluate solutions that they agree with as compelling, and disregard solutions that we don’t agree with or accept. A negotiator needs to be more discerning in how we evaluate all possible solutions or conclusions.
- Information bias – The other problem we might have to be on guard against is that we often interpret information in a manner that is in harmony with information we already know, and then apply this preconception to our conclusions. This means we may not be evaluating all the available information properly because of our prejudices.
We’ve all heard of this one of course, but do we really understand what it means, and do we really know how to use it effectively? What is it and how do we apply it and overcome the challenges encountered in our negotiations? Brainstorming was developed by an advertising executive, Alex Osborn, in the 1950’s to foster creative thinking in business organisations. He believed that one of the main obstacles to creative thinking was our tendency to evaluate ideas prematurely. Osborn also believed that two or more heads could be more collectively creative than one. It is needless to say, generally used as a group approach to creative problem solving. The truth is that most of us don’t use brainstorming effectively because we perceive it as some form of idea melee that engages the group. Surprise! It’s not – brainstorming has rules, and they were developed for a purpose. The key point to learn is not to judge anyone else’s ideas during the process. The rules that follow are adapted from ‘Applied Imagination‘ by Alex Osburn, published in 1957, and have been copied from Leigh Thompson’s, ‘Heart and Mind of the Negotiator‘, Second Edition, (2001).
- Expressiveness – Group members should express any idea that comes to mind, no matter how strange, weird, or fanciful. Group members are encouraged not to be constrained or timid. They should freewheel whenever possible.
- Non-evaluation – Do not criticise ideas. Group members should not evaluate any of the ideas in any way during the generation phase; all ideas should be considered valuable.
- Quantity – Group members should generate as many ideas as possible. Groups should strive for quantity; the more ideas, the better. Quantity of ideas increases the probability of finding excellent solutions.
- Building – Because all of the ideas belong to the group, members should try to modify and extend the ideas suggested by other members of the group whenever possible.
Negotiation problems can be solved by trying one of several powerful creative strategies. A problem is simply an obstacle that needs to overcome, but to be successful in doing so, we need to learn and apply the techniques to be effective. When you are problem solving, always keep in mind what worked and what didn’t. It’s as they say, ‘Practice makes perfect.‘
- Leigh Thompson, ‘The Heart and Mind of the Negotiator-2nd Edition’, Prentice Hall Business Publishing, (2001).
- J. Lewicki, A. Litterer, W.Minton, M. Sauders, ‘Negotiation’, 2nd Edition, Irwin,(1994).