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 2 -

Our last newsletter looked at two extremes among negotiators: insiders, so desperate to close that they’ll sell out their own interests; and outsiders, ready to blow up any deal unless they win on every point. We also touched on a golden middle ground, “the edge of the inside,” the topic of an Op-Ed piece by David Brooks in The New York Times.

Brooks borrowed the phrase from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of Rohr’s “Eight Core Principles,” subtitled “Perspective,” reads: “Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures.”

When a person’s “at the center of something,” Rohr writes, “you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials…. When you live on the edge of anything… you are in a very auspicious and advantageous position… Not an outsider throwing rocks, not a comfortable insider who defends the status quo, but one who lives precariously with two perspectives held tightly together—the faithful insider and the critical outsider at the same time.”

While Rohr’s work is steeped in deep religious faith, I’ve found it really useful in secular settings, from family life to internal company relationships. For example: Employees on the edge of the inside are willing to sacrifice lock-step loyalty for veracity. They recognize the perils of “group think.” They welcome disagreement and even conflict, because the clash of ideas leads to better solutions. Wise business leaders cherish these out-of-the-box employees; they’re the ones who save the company from expensive mistakes.

It may seem less obvious, but Rohr’s philosophy also translates to external negotiations. Here’s our question for today: How can we operate on “the edge of the inside” to become more successful, more creative negotiators?

There’s Always Two Sides

Our central premise at Mobus Creative Negotiating is that differences drive the creative process.  (If both parties were in total agreement, they wouldn’t need to negotiate in the first place.) In basic bargaining, a zero-sum, price-driven process, it may seem adequate simply to define the disagreement, exploit the other side’s weaknesses, and hold out for the most favorable deal. But as we shift into Creative Deal Making, which aims to capture added value for both sides (though not necessarily equally), a one-sided approach falls short. Creative Deal Making demands two-sided thinking. It requires us to move to the edge of our own core values so as to see beyond them—to view with clarity the position of those on the other side. It means we’re not just hearing them, but absorbing and understanding their concerns.

Creative deal-makers approach their opposite numbers as though they were friends, with curiosity and humility. As Richard Rohr puts it, “Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers.” Thinking we have all the answers, Rohr says, can make us “arrogant, falsely self-assured, and closed down as a person. In other words, answers are a plus in the technical and practical world, but a liability in the world of philosophy, art, poetry, invention, enterprise...”

I’d submit that negotiating belongs more to that second world than the first one. (I’ve got a great deal-making limerick for another time.) Good negotiators don’t jump to conclusions or leap to certainty. They suspend their judgments and ask lots of questions before they float their opening bid.

All this empathy is hard work—why make the effort? Here’s why: Even when we strive to be objective as negotiators, we may be off base. By dealing on the edge of the inside, we’re saying, This is my idea, but I’m willing to acknowledge that you might have a better one. Even when our solution is better, it’s probably not the whole answer; everyone has blind spots. Looking at disagreements from a fresh vantage point lends us something invaluable: perspective. By understanding the other side’s position, we can argue more effectively against it. By grasping the weaknesses in our own, we can better anticipate attacks and deflect them.

Connect for Success

There’s one more reason for putting extra time and effort into the discovery phase of a negotiation. Sincere questions connect people—naturally, organically. They get us out of us-versus-them and into a more caring, collaborative mindset. They tune us into the emotional component of negotiating, which is always critical. Going one step further, I’d argue that an on-the-edge approach leads to bigger wins even in one-off haggling scenarios. By understanding the other side’s needs and vulnerabilities, we can get a better price.

To negotiate on the edge of the inside, we need to tolerate ambiguity—to accept not knowing—for longer than we’d probably prefer. Like a Biblical prophet, as Rohr would put it, a good negotiator “has to balance the small bubble in the glass between here and there, between yes and no….[and] hold these perspectives in a necessary creative tension.”

But for those who can stay the two-sided course, there’s also a big payoff: a clear-sighted vision of where you’re headed, and how you’re going to get there.


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