Invent Options For Mutual Gain

Posted by Beetle B. on Thu 09 June 2016

Much of the material with the tag gty comes from Getting To Yes.


There are typically 4 reasons that prevent the invention of options:

  • Premature judgment
  • Searching for the single answer
  • The assumption of a fixed pie
  • Believing that “solving their problem” is their problem and not yours. (e.g. “Let them solve their own problems”)

Premature Judgment

You try to come up with options but then feel they have problems and never propose them.

Searching for the Single Answer

Also part of premature closure. You’re having a difficult enough time agreeing to one thing, you don’t want to complicate by expanding the options. You think it will promote deadlock.


Separate Inventions From Judging

Invent first, analyze and decide later.

Brainstorm, perhaps with multiple people.


  • Define your purpose. What is the goal of this session?
  • Utilize 5-8 people in brainstorming.
  • Change the environment: Don’t use a venue where you meet often.
  • Have an informal atmosphere.
  • Choose a facilitator.

During brainstorming:

  • Seat people side by side and not facing each other. They should feel like they’re working together.
  • Clarify ground rules. Ensure a no-criticism rule. Consider a “No-blame, no credit rule”.
  • Record the ideas (e.g. on a whiteboard).

After brainstorming:

  • Allow some criticism and rank the ideas. Do not decide on any, and don’t throw any out.
  • Invent impediments to the top ideas.
  • Set up a time to evaluate ideas and decide.

Consider brainstorming with the other side. More challenging and risky (you may disclose too much, etc), but potentially more rewarding.

Broaden Your Options

The Circle Chart

Use the Circle Chart below: It will help you multiply your options by shuttling between the specific and the general.

Circle Chart

When you get a good option on the table, it opens the door to asking about the theory that makes the option good, and then use that theory to invent more options.

Look Through the Eyes of Different Experts

Examine your problem from the perspective of different professions and disciplines to generate more options. Combine this approach with the Circle Chart.

Invent Agreements of Different Strengths

If you cannot agree on the primary issue, invent different “levels” of agreement. Examples:

  • Agree on an arbiter.
  • List where the two parties disagree and get agreement on that list.

The goal is to feel like you can get some agreement.

Stronger Weaker
Substantive Procedural
Permanent Provisional
Comprehensive Partial
Final In Principle
Unconditional Contingent
Binding Non-binding
First-order Second-order

The entries in the left column are used to describe a strong agreement. Those on the right are for a weaker one. If you cannot get a strong agreement, seek options from the right column.

Change The Scope of a Proposed Agreement

If you cannot get agreement on the whole, get agreement on the parts, or at least some of them. It could be limited in geography (regional) or in time (temporary).

Then as a bonus, ask “What can we add to sweeten the deal?” and expand outwards.

Look For Mutual Gain

Always remember, while there is opportunity for a joint gain, there is also opportunity for a joint loss.

Identify Shared Interests

Always look for a solution that satisfies the other party, and not just you.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do we have a shared interest in preserving the relationship?
  2. What opportunities lie ahead for cooperation and mutual benefit?
  3. What costs exist for breaking off the negotiation?
  4. Are there common principles and norms that we can respect?

Shared interests will sit there until you actively make something out of them. Make them explicit and frame them as a goal.

Emphasizing shared interests can make the negotiations smoother and more amicable.

Dovetail Differing Interests

Differing interests can suggest solutions! I want to sell a house and move into an apartment. The buyer wants a house. It would be silly for me to convince him of the virtues of not having a house!

Look at this table to get an idea of common difference types:

One Party Other Party
Form Substance
Economic Considerations Political Considerations
Internal Considerations External Considerations
Symbolic Considerations Practical Considerations
Immediate Future More distant future
Ad Hoc Results The Relationship
Hardware (concrete) Ideology
Progress Tradition
Precedent Current case
Prestige Results
Political Points Group Welfare

Different Beliefs?

Agree on an arbitrator. Or vote.

Different Values Placed on Time?

One cares about the future. The other about the present. Both discount future value at different rates. Consider an installment plan (e.g. some amount now and rest in installments).

Different Forecasts?

One party believes the venture is more profitable than the other. Agree on a low amount with a bonus if it becomes high. This is like offering the real estate agent 3% if it sells up to the price he/she thinks it will, but then 20% of everything extra.

Ask For Their Preferences

Invent several options that are equally acceptable to you and ask which the other party prefers, and not just finds acceptable (they need not commit to it). Then take that option and make variants. Repeat until you cannot find more options for mutual gain.

Make Their Decision Easier

Success depends on the other party making a decision you want, so help them by making it easy for them. Step into their shoes.

Whose Shoes?

You need to identify whose shoes you need to step into. Do not just pick an institution like “Chicago”, but instead pick a relevant individual like the mayor.

What Decisions?

Do not say “Come up with something and I will tell you if I like it.” This is not making it easy for them. Keep this in mind during salary negotiations.

Ask yourself:

  • What are some terms the other party would easily sign (and be of benefit to you)?
  • Can you reduce the number of people whose approval is required?
  • Can you formulate an agreement that will be easy for them to implement?

It is easier to refrain from doing something not being done than to stop action underway.

It is easier to cease doing something than to start something new.

Keep these in mind when putting yourself in their shoes.

Appeal to being fair/legal/honorable if possible.

Always try to find precedent. Did they do something similar in the past that you can invoke and/or draw analogies from?

Making Threats Is Not Enough

Putting yourself in their shoes, what would you fear most from the decision? What would you hope for?

Threats are probably less effective than opportunities.

Emphasize the benefits they will see.

Would they like credit for the action? Would they like to be the one announcing it? Invent low cost things that they will value highly.

Consider how they will be criticized for the decision you want them to take. Write down a few sentences of how it would be criticized. Then write down the defense.

Write everything in the form of a “yessable” proposition. Draft a proposal where a single “Yes” response would be sufficient yet realistic.

tags : negotiations, gty