Creative negotiation involves looking for the hidden opportunities presented by challenges. An integral part of this creative effort requires that possible solutions meet the needs of each stakeholder. The task at hand involves overcoming at least four difficulties:

First, our natural tendency is to come up with stances, that is, we give our best solution to a given set of needs. A greenhouse manager may ask his production supervisor to review the color picking scheme with the harvesting crew. Pickers have been harvesting too many green tomatoes lately. The greenhouse manager’s need is to lower the number of tomatoes harvested that do not meet minimum color requirement. His stance, or position, is to have the workers re-trained by the production supervisor.

Second, we are inclined to focus exclusively on our needs and assume it’s the other stakeholder’s responsibility to worry about having her needs met. Ironically, by showing a sincere interest in the needs of others, we increase the chances to have our needs met. When interviewing the greenhouse crew workers we may find they understand perfectly well the correct color to harvest tomatoes. Yet, because they get paid a piece rate, crew workers find it difficult to meet their economic needs if they devote too much attention to quality. The greenhouse manager and crew workers can initiate problem solving armed with the combined knowledge of both of their needs.

Third, our emotions regularly get in the way. Nothing kills creativity quicker than anger, pride, embarrassment, envy, greed or other strong negative emotion. Anger is often an expression of fear or lack of confidence in our ability to get what we think we want. Anger is very much self-centered. Emotional outbursts tend to escalate rather than solve a conflict. If we can improve our ability to manage our emotions and respond without getting defensive, we have gone a long way toward creative negotiation.

Fourth, we frequently fail to explore beyond the obvious solution. It helps to validate the other stakeholder’s needs as a starting point in exploring creative solutions and as a way to reduce negative emotion. "You need to get home by four today. Let’s think of how we can get you home by four and get the animals fed, too."

“As we practice creative negotiation, faith in our ability to turn challenges into opportunities will increase. This self-confidence will help us focus on problem solving and reduce the chances of falling back on contention, negative emotion or competitive negotiation. So, next time you find emotions getting the better part of you, see if creative negotiation will not help to fill your needs as well as those of the other stakeholder,” Billikopf says.

Find more information on conflict management and interpersonal mediation here.
Read more on ag labor management and worker productivity here.