How to Negotiate Better by Creating New Possibilities

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on getting better results from your negotiations.

Negotiations can be tough.

They are often high pressure, high stakes situations with tight deadlines and demanding stakeholders. Opinions and interests can differ widely among parties, and strong emotions may come into play.

When we are under this type of pressure, we often find ourselves stumped. Our thinking narrows and our creative muscles feel constrained. When this happens, we often:

  • become judgmental, criticizing and dismissing ideas shared by the other party,
  • assume we have all of the facts and hone in on a small number of one-sided solutions, and
  • ignore opportunities to seek new, broader options that have not been previously considered.

In any of these scenarios, the ability to achieve a wise and satisfactory result from the negotiation is hindered.

The Principled Negotiation Method defined in Getting to Yes suggests several strategies to counteract this.

The premise is that “The key to wise decision making lies in selecting from a great number and variety of options.” Click to Tweet >

Separate Inventing from Deciding

One solution is to “Separate Inventing from Deciding.” This means that you commit to brainstorming a wide variety of options before you pick a particular approach, and to do so with an open mind and without judgment.

You may even choose to do this with the party you are negotiating with.

While this may sound over simplistic, an example drawn from a Harvard Program on Negotiation illustrates the power of seeking new options before locking into a specific approach. It is a negotiation simulation called “Sally Soprano.”

Negotiation Simulation: Sally Soprano

There are two parties in the scenario. One is an Opera House that is about to stage a large and important production. The other is Sally, a once-prominent opera singer that is on the downside of her career.

The Opera House is in a difficult situation. The lead for their upcoming production has fallen ill. They need to find a replacement and have limited options.

Sally is available and is seeking to reinvigorate her career. She has past history playing a feature role in this production.

The opportunity for partnership is evident, but the Opera House is limited in what it can pay Sally. At the same time, Sally has expectations on how she should be compensated based on her reputation and history.

With pressure mounting and the clock ticking, it would be easy for the Opera House and Sally to get into a positional negotiation focused specifically on financial compensation. Narrowing the conversation to one solution (finding a specific salary) leaves little room for creatively identifying mutually beneficial options. Click to Tweet >

By reviewing interests (e.g. the Opera House’s need to achieve good sales and Sally’s goal of boosting her reputation and legacy) and brainstorming a broad range of potential solutions, many creative options for compensation and recognition become possible. They include:

  • Sharing a percentage of gate sales in a way that spreads risk among both parties.
  • Developing a specific advertising plan and budget that features Sally.
  • Giving Sally “superstar” treatment such as a limo and personal make-up artist.
  • Selling recordings of the performance and sharing revenue.
  • The Opera House creates an academy named after Sally to train upcoming Sopranos.

Negotiation Breakthroughs by Focusing on Inventing

Negotiations are tough. But don’t let the pressure of a negotiation prevent you from doing your best thinking. Click to Tweet >

So next time you are facing a seasoned negotiator, step back and focus on inventing. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can before aligning to a specific solution or decision.

This approach can yield breakthrough ideas to advance a negotiation otherwise locked in a stalemate.

In our next post, we’ll look at reframing how we view the other party in a negotiation and explore why it is important to focus on people and relationships.  

About the Author

Seth Sinclair


Seth Sinclair is a leadership coach, management consultant, trainer, and facilitator with a passion for helping his clients achieve their personal and professional goals. Reach out by emailing him at or learn more on our About page.