Creative Negotiation

Gregorio Billikopf Encina
University of California

(This article was incorporated into a full chapter at

The very thought of negotiating sounds intimidating, yet we are all experienced negotiators. Any time we come to an agreement on anything, we are negotiating. Some of it we may do somewhat subconsciously, such as taking turns merging into traffic or deciding who says hello first. Determining where to go out for dinner with your spouse, or asking your daughter for help in training a colt also involves negotiation. More traditional issues we associate with negotiation may include agreeing on (1) a pruning price with your vineyard crew, (2) how much you are going to pay to have your dairy barn constructed, or (3) how much you will get for your export cherries. The greater the importance of the outcome, the more stressful or emotional the negotiation can be.

A typical approach is to either yield or compete. We are most likely to yield if we feel there is little chance in winning, or if the outcome is more important to the other person than to us. Yielding is not only noble, but often the best decision. But not always. If saying yes today means living with frustration or resentment tomorrow, yielding is not a virtue.

Competing, like yielding, means one person gets his way. Or at least it seems so at first. In the long run both parties often end up losing. It does little good, for instance, to get a wonderful contract for your new dairy barn if the contractor is not able to complete the project and goes out of business. Competition tends to focus too much on a particular episode rather than on long term viability. Also, the focus is more on the present goal than on the relationship. I know a retired manager who brags that his subordinates soon learned he was not always right—but always the boss. Although this manager may have obtained worker compliance from his winning tactics, I doubt he got much in terms of employee commitment. Losers often hold grudges and find ways of getting even.

Compromise is an alternative to either competing or yielding. Some types of compromises involve an arrangement somewhere between two positions; others may mean alternating the beneficiary. An example of the former is paying 20 cents per vine pruned when management wanted to pay 18 cents and crew workers asked for a quarter. An instance of the latter may involve alternating who gets first crack at using the computer at the barn. Greater trust and maturity is often required by this second type of compromise.

On the plus side, compromise takes a measure of goodwill and little creativity. On the minus side, compromise often involves lazy communication or problem solving. You may have heard the classic tale of two sisters who argued over who would get an orange. They compromised and split it in half. One sister ate her half and threw away the peel; the other, who was involved in a cooking project, grated the peel of her half and threw away the rest of the orange.

Creative Negotiation.

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 is 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 get in the way regularly. 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 want 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—like the sisters who split the orange in half. 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.

© 1999 by The Regents of the University of California and Gregorio Billikopf
Agricultural Extension, Stanislaus County. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher and the author. Printing this electronic Web page is permitted for personal, non-commercial use as long as the author and the University of California are credited.

Table of Contents

15 November 2004