The Creative Negotiating

Creative negotiating is a quest for mutual-gain synergies—to match your assets to the other party’s needs, and vice versa. It takes more than a collaborative mindset; it’s an act of imagination. Creative negotiators unlock hidden opportunities to capture more total value in the deal. 

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Dealing on the Edge

- Part 1 -


In a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, David Brooks wrote about two types of people you can find within (or around) any organization:

• Insiders, the lock-step, party-line loyalists who are at the table whenever big decisions are made, and for whom unity is the overriding principle; and

• Outsiders, the contrarians at the gate who lob missiles and grenades, revel in contention, and seize any opening for a hostile takeover.

For all their obvious differences, as Brooks notes, insiders and outsiders share some traits in common. They both have a black-and-white outlook: all or nothing, on the bus or off the bus, us versus them. In their obsession for purity, they live in a perpetual state of defensiveness, rigidity, anxiety, and out-and-out fear. 

Hillary Clinton is a classic insider; Donald Trump’s an outsider on steroids. As presidential candidates, their historic unpopularity may reflect—at least in part—their extreme positioning on the insider/outsider axis. Most of the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle, or we oscillate between the two poles. In general, Americans are suspicious of extremists.

When Silence Isn’t Golden

I’ve been thinking about how Brooks’ dichotomy relates to the business world in general, and to negotiating in particular. In internal business negotiations, insiders are the ones who swallow their doubts (and sometimes even their scruples) in their efforts to be seen as team players. And sure, it can seem safer to fall into line than to rock the boat. But in a famous paper, “Is Silence Killing Your Company?” the Harvard Business Review found that repressing disagreement is “extremely costly to both the firm and the individual.” Self-censorship can generate “feelings of humiliation, pernicious anger, resentment, and the like that, if unexpressed, contaminate every interaction, shut down creativity, and undermine productivity.” In other words, unchallenged consensus is an organizational death trap.

On the other hand, dyed-in-the-wool outsiders—those knee-jerk curmudgeons—recall the boy who cried wolf. By attacking every proposal, by disagreeing for disagreement’s sake, they become marginalized. Even when their critiques are sound, their associates tune them out. What’s more, they demoralize people around them—not the greatest strategy for career advancement, or even a good time at the company picnic.

Yes and No

At Mobus Creative Negotiating, we focus on external negotiations—the process of finding an optimal deal between two arms-length parties. In this context, insiders are the people who can’t tolerate ambiguity—who cave in to the other side’s demands to relieve their own stress. They’re so desperate to close the transaction that they block out what it will cost them. Insiders come in different flavors. Avoiders put off the negotiation process indefinitely; accepters can’t quite bring themselves to ask for a better price. But in their compulsion to reach a quick agreement, all of them will sell their own interests down the river.

Where the insiders can’t wait to say “Yes,” outsiders shout “No!” to the rooftops. Convinced that the world is out to take advantage of them, they make sure they get in the first punch. In my own experience, one extreme case was a New Jersey subcontractor named Mike. An affable cement mason by trade, Mike never met a negotiation he wasn’t willing to blow up. He cared only about getting the best possible deal for himself: best price, best payment terms, best delivery schedule, best everything. Mike approached every transaction like a game of chicken—or war. He wasn’t merely stubborn; he was ferocious, relentless. When push came to assault, he refused to turn away from a head-on collision. And since the other side usually would back off, Mike wound up winning every time.

Until he didn’t, that is. Until he got people so angry and frustrated that he ruptured every relationship he ever had, including his marriage. It reached the point where my family’s construction company couldn’t use him any more. His own workmen left him. Mike wound up with nothing.

Fortunately, there’s a middle ground between these two extremes. David Brooks calls it “the edge of the inside,” the place where we can “take advantage of the standards and practices of an organization but not be imprisoned by them.” It’s where antagonisms are transformed into complementary relationships. It’s the vantage point that allows us to see both sides with clarity.

In our next installment, I’ll consider how negotiators can find the edge of the inside—and why doing so can lead to consistently better deals.




"How to Think Like a Negotiator"



Our Mission

At Mobus Creative Negotiating, our mission is to show you how to find more profitable outcomes in deals large and small. We can help you improve your negotiation skills by gauging the other party’s pressures and needs—by turning a transaction into a strategic relationship. To learn more about our Creative Negotiating seminars, visit us at