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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Strategic Negotiating, Part VI:


Creative Conflict


John Lennon and Paul McCartney drove each other crazy. “The White Album” sessions were so unpleasant that their audio engineer quit midstream. Yet the mercurial Lennon and meticulous McCartney co-wrote some of the most enduring music in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. As George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, put it:

“Imagine two people pulling on a rope, smiling at each other and pulling all the time with all their might.” 

At Mobus Creative Negotiating, we have a term for this phenomenon: Creative Conflict. You can find it in just about every field of human endeavor:


• Bill Gates and Paul Allen were famous for their screaming matches, but their partnership created the software that launched the personal computer revolution.

• Magic Johnson and Larry Bird spurred one another to creative heights through the conflict of competition—and so did Matisse and Picasso.

• James Watson and Frances Crick constantly disagreed about the structure of the DNA molecule, but together they hit upon the double helix model that would pave the way for the Human Genome Project.


And the list goes on and on. Here’s a quote from Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Powers of Two: Seeking the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs:

Conflict uncovers problems to be solved, weaknesses to be eliminated and perceptions to improve….This can be tempestuous at times, but peaceful pairs may never uncover anything new—they lack the energy and dynamic tension to fuel creation.

Counter-Cultural Negotiating

From the time we are born, our culture trains us to get along with people; we’re taught to shy away from conflict and nod our head and say yes. In today’s more collaborative business world, many people see arguments as obstructive. To avoid undermining the deal, they try to eliminate discord and soften competition as much as they can.

But according to academic research, this seemingly logical approach may be dead wrong. In a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 74 dating couples and 32 mixed-sex pairs of complete strangers worked through a simulated negotiation on three potentially related issues. Here’s what they wanted to find out: Which group would make the more mutually advantageous deals? 

The results might seem counter-intuitive. The dating couples, the journal noted, “had lower outcome aspirations, less frequently generated offers which facilitate the discovery of mutually beneficial outcomes, less frequently engaged in pressure (dominance) tactics, and more frequently exchanged information about profit values and priorities”—in other words, they were more honest and less aggressive. But the strangers were superior collaborators. Their friction generated better deals for both sides.

What’s more, the more fiercely committed the dating couple (as calibrated by something called the “Rubin’s Love Scale”), the less effectively they negotiated.

Push Back, Lean In

Which leads us to our conclusion: Differences drive the creative process. In their eagerness to preserve harmony and minimize any conflict, the romantic couples came to premature agreement. By refusing to push back and risk getting “stuck,” they shut off their problem-solving creativity. As a result, both sides left value on the table.

It’s not easy to express disagreement. It’s even harder when you work closely with your opposite number and feel invested in the business relationship. But stop and think about it: We wouldn’t need to negotiate in the first place if we had no differences. In my view, competition and disagreement aren’t necessary evils; they are healthy and essential elements for reaching a better deal. Assuming hostilities don’t get out of hand, it’s the clash of ideas that fosters imaginative thinking and the most lucrative solutions.

Mobus Creative Negotiating trains people to lean into their differences instead of smoothing over them. In our next newsletter, I’ll look at an example of Creative Conflict from personal experience.


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