In their book “Strategies for effective cross-cultural negotiation“, Joo Seng and Lim claim that ‘while individuals are very good at value claiming, they are very poor at value creation’. The good thing about cross-cultural conflicts is that just like any other conflict, they provide us with the potential of coming up with an altogether new solution – one that allows us to expand the pie instead of sharing it. But in order to do so, we need to be creative in the way we solve the conflict and come up with a solution that is in our mutual interest.
One of the biggest problems with conflict situations in intercultural negotiations is that they require you to come up with a creative solution on the spot, while we are the most creative when we are alone and have time to reflect on things. For long negotiations, we need to establish a process in which phases of individual problem solving alternate with phases in which we collectively evaluate solutions, develop them further, and come to an agreement. Often negotiations arbitrarily come to an end for the day, because, for instance, the time is up, or because there is a conflict which can’t be solved at that point in time. In order to avoid situations like this – in which you depart for the time being without any real idea of how the process should continue – we need to deliberately design a process which allows us to always know where we stand, and how to continue. And that is where GEDA comes into play.
1. Generate Ideas
You could go into a negotiation with the rough idea that you will keep on discussing until a certain time, and then to pause the negotiation process. But you can also go into a negotiation with the plan that you will continue discussing until you reach a certain point or goal. In applying GEDA, a conflict situation becomes the goal instead of being something to be shunned or afraid of. Naturally every major negotiation comes to an impasse, or a time that seems like a deadlock. It seems like there is no way either of you can make a concession on a particular issue, and no matter what you propose nothing changes. This is the time for creative problem solving.
Like I mentioned before, one’s creativity works far better when he or she is working on a problem alone. Many researchers have shown that brainstorming generates less ideas, and less high quality ideas than when everybody separates, creates solutions individually, and then meets up again to evaluate the individual ideas. And so, when such an impasse arrives, it is time to stop the negotiation for a moment and give both parties the time to come up with a creative solution.
Before you separate, however, make sure that you create mutually agreed upon criteria based on which you can later evaluate the ideas.
2. Evaluate Ideas
Once both sides have come up with potential solutions, it is time to sit together again and evaluate these ideas. Are there any ideas among them that, with a little tweaking, could potentially be acceptable to both sides? What are the conditions under which these ideas could work? How would they have to be changed? It is important that at this point that it makes sense to make use of De Bono’s six thinking hats. The Six Thinking hats are essentially a way to separate your thinking into different functions and to focus on one function at a time.
In order to evaluate the ideas both parties generated, you can put on the yellow hat first : look at each idea with optimism and try to think of its value and benefits for either side. Next, put on the black hat. When you do that, focus exclusively on potential problems and why the proposed solution may fail. Lastly, put on the red hat. At this point you should focus purely on your feelings and emotions. How do you feel about the proposed solution? Does it feel right or wrong to you, do you like or dislike it? Why?
Finally, it is time to choose the ideas which you believe have the potential to fulfill the criteria you agreed upon earlier.
3. Develop the ideas
It is unlikely that either party will have come up with an idea in the meantime which both sides will agree upon as it is. That’s why, once you choose ideas which you think could potentially fulfill all of your criteria, it is time to develop these ideas and take them further. It is important that first of all you try to do so jointly. If you cooperate on twerking the ideas and improving them, then the ideas will have been created by everyone involved collectively. And if everybody is involved in the process of working on an idea, then everybody will start to feel ownership for it. Do you see why its important to try and find a solution together at this point?
Of course, when you keep on improving the idea together, but it still doesn’t seem to be the optimal solution, then at this point you can stop the negotiation process again for a while. Again, both sides can take their time to think the ideas through on their own, and to propose these developments at the next session.
This is where the mutually agreed upon criteria become the most important. You have developed standards based on which to judge your proposed solutions, now its time to apply them to your final ideas. If the ideas fit your criteria and you can both come to an agreement – perfect! If not, it is time to decide whether to try and develop the already existing ideas further, or whether you should go back to stage one and try to come up with completely new ideas.