The Power of Brainstorming in Negotiation

Negotiation is an opportunity to explore whether one (or more) parties can effectively satisfy goals and top-priority unmet needs while creating increased value.

In other words, WINNING.

Naturally, your counterpart is also seeking to satisfy unmet needs, create value, and find wins.

A powerful tool for solving your unmet needs and creating increased value with a negotiation counterpart is brainstorming. Brainstorming is a problem-solving method that involves the spontaneous contribution of creative ideas and solutions that meet the respective parties’ unmet needs, interests, or strategic priorities.

Brainstorming works best in negotiation, when both parties believe a “problem-solving” approach can help them reach an agreement. Here, both parties must be willing to share what is most important to them in reaching a deal. It may also include disclosure of strategic priorities and where one is placing its bets. It is not about using manipulative tactics to beat the other side.

For example, in Retail/CPG brand negotiations, a retailer might share that increased profitability, an investment in its media program, or a differentiated product may be its core unmet need or interest. A CPG calling on the retailer might disclose its most important need is growing sales, better shelf placement, or the introduction of new products.

Once a mutual understanding of these needs is discussed, brainstorming could be the next step.

Brainstorming starts with the question: “How might we solve these needs?”

For brainstorming to work in negotiation, certain aspects are important to follow if you are to find creative solutions:

  • Set the parameters: Invite your counterpart to brainstorm ideas for solving your most important unmet needs or strategic priorities and theirs, as both parties have expressed. Don’t let the brainstorming go off course unless it contributes to your overall goals and needs.
  • Encourage New Ideas: Embrace all ideas no matter how far out they might seem. Don’t rely on old ways of doing things. There’s often not a whole lot of difference between outrageous and brilliant.
  • Defer Judgment: Creative spaces are judgment-free zones—they let ideas flow so people can build from each other’s great ideas. Don’t criticize initial ideas, even if they don’t work for you. If you find an idea objectionable, you can always ask, “How does this idea meet our respective needs?”
  • Build on the Ideas of Others: Try to use “and” instead of “but,” it encourages positivity and inclusivity and leads to more ideas. You might say, “This is an interesting idea, AND, building on this idea, we might . . . “
  • Go for Quantity: Encourage a lot of ideas. There is often a nugget there that can be built upon. You can later suggest that the parties rank the ideas from most to least interesting.

As you brainstorm, identify opportunities, that

  • Meet your/their most important needs/interests.
  • Reduce costs, eliminate costs, or add value.
  • Capitalize on differences and similarities.

In one negotiation, a retailer was meeting with a small kitchen appliance maker to discuss the upcoming year’s program and costs. The retailer disclosed its strategic priority (core interest) of creating working kitchens in its stores to highlight its products. The appliance maker disclosed they had recently been purchased by a large appliance maker and were looking for opportunities to highlight those large appliance brands.

After a brainstorming session, the parties found a solution that met both of their needs, expanding the value and impact of the deal, and creating a win for both. Indeed, the appliance maker agreed to fund the build-out of the kitchens in return for placing their small and large appliances in those kitchens (even though the large appliances would not be sold at the retailer). A creative solution for a negotiation originally founded on cost and investment decisions.

Consider brainstorming in your next negotiation with a counterpart where you both are willing to share more information about your respective needs. You may find it a powerful tool in creating more value and impact on your business.

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