How does creativity factor into your negotiation strategy?

For effective negotiation, our creative ability is the key to overcoming fear

When planning how to negotiate effectively, most people think of tasks like doing their research, setting goals, creating action plans and managing stakeholders. This reveals a rigid mindset, one that follows the “professional”, predictable and safe path. Yet if we go about things the same old way, we get the same old conflicts and the same old outcomes.

Breaking from convention can yield better results, but it takes courage. If we set an audacious goal, will we damage the relationship? Is offering a concession a mistake? If someone is angry, who is wrong? What will our stakeholders say about this sub-par outcome? Fear, pure and simple.

Our negotiation planning is designed to reduce fear – that’s why we plan. This is where creativity comes in: the ability to generate ideas and alternatives, think innovatively, make new connections and be inventive. In a negotiation, it enables us to think quickly, respond strategically to unexpected turns and decide how to act rather than react.

Be responsive, not reactive

Every negotiation is unique, and every negotiation will present unexpected elements; it’s impossible to completely predict the other party’s behaviour, choice of tactics or strategy, despite the best preparation. Riding this unpredictability requires us to be flexible, inventive and nimble, ready to adjust our planned strategy. It takes creativity.

Responding out of fear limits our capacity for being creative, because safety and growth come from different human physiological systems. Feeling fear drives us blindly towards safety. When we feel fear, we believe and focus on how vulnerable we are. We take the conservative option to guard against worst-case scenarios. We stick to our comfort zones, rather than stepping outside them and taking a risk.

Creativity is the path of growth that allows us to respond strategically, with grounded optimism. To react without thinking is a safety reflex.

Don’t fear losing the outcome you want

For creativity to be most effective, it needs to be free and responsive; if something stifles our creativity during any phase of the negotiation process, we’ll struggle to draw on it to manage the interaction.

Emotions, such as fear, worry, anger or pride, can get in the way of creativity. Yet it’s not the emotions themselves that are the problem, but how much attention we pay to them. While it’s natural to feel fear of losing the outcome we want, it’s focusing on that fear that will distract us and block the creativity that could actually help us gain it.

How? Our physiological reaction to fear and stress – the ‘fight-or-flight’ response –triggers automatic, subconscious physical actions. So if we allow ourselves to be distracted by fear of losing our desired negotiation outcome, our fight-or-flight response will kick in and our actions can become less purposeful.

We may mentally ‘freeze’ and become unable to think clearly. Our behaviour style may become more aggressive. We may default to stale, safe negotiation techniques rather than our planned strategies and tactics and forget about trying something new.

If fear overrules our ability to think clearly, quickly and creatively, the other party may consequently take power in the negotiation. It will become much harder for us to regain the advantage.

To avoid focusing on fear of losing the outcome, know that it may naturally arise and be prepared to acknowledge and ignore it. Then you can remain objective and focus where you should: on your negotiation strategy.

Top tips for using creativity in negotiation


  • Use the time leading up to the formal negotiation meeting to prepare thoroughly. Research the other party. Develop your negotiation strategy and rehearse it. If you know your game, you’ll feel more confident and be more free to think creatively on the spot.


  • Focus not on fear of not getting the outcome you want, but on how you can respond creatively to what happens in the negotiation. What tactics could you deploy? What’s the most effective negotiation style you could adopt? How can you leverage your observations of the other party’s behaviour?


  • Mentally position yourself outside the intensity of the negotiation to prevent emotions (like fear of loss) taking over your actions. If you can stay objective and observe what’s happening rather than get bogged down in it, you’ll make space for your creativity to work its magic.


  • If the other party surprises you with unexpected obstacles or tactics, take charge. Call for a break, or ask for a few minutes to consult your team members or review your documents.


Develop your negotiation creativity

Creativity is the must-have negotiation tool that allows you to overcome fear and break away from rigid thinking. Your ability to ideate quickly, change direction and respond strategically rather than rely on safe, established moves may be the key to more successful outcomes. Are you making the most of it?

Expert guidance and advice can help you harness your creativity and discover how to bring it to the table in every negotiation. At ENS, we specialise in the corporate psychology behind successful negotiations. Our unique methodology has helped clients around the world achieve optimum outcomes from their negotiations for over 40 years.

Contact us now to find out how to negotiate with creativity for business growth. 

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