Negotiation is all about finding a solution to a problem. You want to find the best deal for yourself and the other party wants to do the same. Since these objectives frequently appear to be in conflict, what you really want to do is find the best deal for both of you. That way everybody wins and both sides achieve their goals. Staying in your box limits your possibilities to make a good deal. One of my favorite examples of out of the box thinking is about a friend of mine who is an antique dealer. He is an old country boy who had worked in a steel mill until he got laid off. After that he lived by his wits and he had plenty of them. Although he did not have a lot of formal education, he had what is now called “street smarts”.
Every year the antique dealers would go to the Highway 127 “World’s Longest Garage Sale”. People would set up all along Highway 127 from Covington, Kentucky to Gadsden, Alabama and sell everything from clothing to collectibles to antiques. We would load up on treasures and haul them back to our shops for resale. One year after the sale I was talking to Bill. He said he did really well and I asked him what he bought. “Well,” he said, “I really did not come back with all that much. What I did was take my truck and go up the road buying all morning and then in the afternoon, I found a place to pull off by the side of the road and sell what I bought. The next two days I did the same thing. “ “I made a lot of money,” he confided. Well, I was thunderstruck. Here we were spending all of our time buying and he was doing both. That is thinking outside the box of “I have to get inventory for my shop.”
In a negotiation, you are looking for a solution. Don’t be afraid of expressing your problem of “Here is what I need.” You might find your solution across the table and vice versa.
First do your homework. What is your goal; what do you really want out of this negotiation? What are your trade-offs, what are the other party’s wants and what might they trade.
Next be alert for serendipity. Ask questions to test assumptions and really listen to what they are telling you. A lot of solutions are enclosed in what people are saying is their problem.
Finally, don’t get in the box in the first place. Remember that what is obvious to you may be a revelation to others. Don’t assume that “everybody knows that”. While you should stick to your goal, don’t get stuck on “your solution” as the only way to reach that goal. Explore the other possibilities.
Getting outside the box as a negotiator will help you see new ways to solve problems and find value for both parties so you can have a winning negotiation. I see myself as the “Chief Problem Solver” helping my clients to develop the best solution to a negotiation or conflict that they need to resolve.