Practical negotiation: how creativity can support your next negotiation

We’ve all heard it before: that negotiation is about finding win-win solutions, where both parties walk away feeling like they’ve won a portion of the pie. But what if there’s more than one pie? Or a whole pie shop? Or you didn’t even need a pie because a slice of mud cake would have satisfied your cravings?

Negotiation theory has evolved. Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project wrote in their now famous book Getting to Yes that negotiation is more successful when it is about creating multiple options for mutual gain that you can then choose from. These options should be developed by exploring various interests of each party, rather than on defending a position or claiming a piece of pie.

But how do you actually achieve this, when you’re sitting in the room, face to face with the other party?

Being creative uses divergent and convergent thinking to explore and generate ideas and then select, prioritise and decide on the most beneficial ones. This is crucial in successful negotiations. You can activate this style of thinking in yourself and in others through a series of practical skills and communication tools, all drawn from the actor’s world of improvisation. Improvisation, in essence, is being creative in the moment.

Here are three practical examples of how you can use improvisation technique when you are at the negotiation table:

Active Watching and Active Listening
Being present and focused in negotiation helps build rapport with the other party and enables you to read the non-verbal and verbal cues they may be giving you. When you raise the question of your salary do they shift their body, do they have a counter-argument? Have you heard certain key words, and can you use these as a springboard for suggesting other alternatives? Find out what’s important to them.

Advancing and Extending
Divergent thinking helps generate creative ideas by exploring as many options as possible and is a key part of creatively discovering options for mutual gain. A great way to do this is advancing and extending. Asking someone to extend on a certain point can help you unlock what is of real value to them. Actors use the principle of ‘Yes… And…’ to progress the action in an improvised scene. You don’t need to literally say ‘Yes… And’ but try ‘accepting’ a suggestion and extending on the idea to advance the conversation.

Using Status
Shifting your status can allow you to adjust your communication style depending on the context and stage of negotiation. Employing the tactic of status can allow the conversation to move forward if you are at an impasse by adopting a lower status through asking questions rather than asserting your own position. Or alternatively this technique can help you to exude confidence during the decision-making stage by adopting the body language and vocal tones associated with a higher status.

At NIDA we look at how you can easily use these and other techniques in the room when you are face-to-face with the other party. We use improvisation games to train your brain and your body to draw on these tools in the crucial moments of negotiation when the dialogue can stall, or the relationship is on the verge of being lost, or about to develop into something great.

There are many theories and tactics around successful negotiation and I will continue to explore how you can practically develop these for yourself in future posts. But in the meantime start thinking beyond the size of your piece of pie in your next negotiation.

All views expressed are authors own.

Caroline Spence
About this author:
 Caroline Spence, Former Head of NIDA Open and Corporate
Want to know more? Contact NIDA Corporate on 1300 650 357 or connect with Caroline on LinkedIn