Brainstorm Options Before You Negotiate

A common mistake is to go into a negotiation thinking that there is only one acceptable outcome: what you want. One of the best things you can do to prepare for a negotiation is to think about all the possible options that may exist for you and the other side.

Unprepared or rookie negotiators often don’t devote time to think about the other options which may be also acceptable or even better. The error in this approach is to think that the “pie is fixed”. Instead, try expanding the pie before you divide it.

In other words, think of what might be added to the deal to make it more acceptable to the other party. For example, a customer might ask the salesperson for a discount. Instead of responding with a discount or arguing against it, ask yourself what can be added to the existing deal to make it a better for the other side? Maybe more generous payment terms would help or you could add an extra month on the service contract. These concessions may seem minor to you, but they may be perceived as significant by the customer. Remember it is what they think that counts.

One way to come with other options is to brainstorm, which is a process for generating new ideas. There are many ways to brainstorm new ideas or options, but before you can begin it is necessary to give yourself the freedom to invent new ideas. New ideas don’t have to be perfect and they may or may not be used. All ideas are good and welcome.

As a single negotiator, you can do this by yourself. First, write down all potential ideas or options. Let your self go and get a little crazy. List anything that might work. When this is done, review the list and eliminate the impractical or impossible ideas; by doing this you are left with a list of possible solutions.

Or, if you are negotiating as a team, you can bounce ideas off each other by using the same process. Create a list and vote on what seems possible. Think in terms of what the other side might want or need. Try to put yourself in their shoes. What is important to the other side? What motivates them? What do they fear?

You can also seek the input of third parties; explain the situation as best you can and ask them what they might propose. This can be a very powerful reality check on the reasonableness your options; sometimes you can get too close to the problem and you can lose your objectivity. A third party might see things very differently than you.

Another very successful technique is to brainstorm directly with the other party before the actual negotiation. The key here is self disclosure. A good way to present this brainstorming suggestion to the other side is to admit that you are having some struggles in coming up with a good solution. Say that you would like to bounce some ideas off them first. Remind the other party that you are not negotiating, but just brainstorming some possibilities.

Sound risky? It can be, but it can also be a very effective way to build a relationship; self disclosure is the behavior of a trustworthy person. It can also be a great way to uncover new ideas and options.

Avoid premature judgments about what is possible by brainstorming the possibilities first. Remember that the consequences of not thinking ahead may be to just split the difference, which is often a poor option for both parties.