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Creativity is Vital for Effective Negotiation & Mediation

Creativity is a vital characteristic for an effective mediator and negotiator. Research shows that effective communicators are twice as creative as average communicators.* Average negotiators will typically say,

-There is only one way to resolve this or

-You choose. Either this way or that way.

In contrast, an effective negotiator will realize there is an inexhaustible number of options to almost any situation or problem or conflict.

Creativity declines with the maturation process.

Regrettably, research also demonstrates that the more experienced folks are, the less creative they are. Some research shows that by age 5, one loses 5% of creativity skills and by age 21, 95%. **

Example validating this research: An instructor purchased a purple rod with a L hook on one end at an Ohio truck stop. (called a fifth wheel puller). In the creativity module, they displayed this pole and asked a group or retired attorneys/judges in a mediation training, what they would do with this pole if they owned it. At first, the attendees demanded “the answer.” Then it hit them that this was a creativity module so they came up with 3-5 ideas.

The same experiment was done at The George Washington University School of Law negotiation class. Students came up with 5-8 ideas.

Finally, the same experiment was conducted at Bancroft Elementary School (DC). The peer mediators were stopped at 35 ideas.

Creativity Exercises

A familiar creativity exercise is this one:

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Connect these nine dots with 4 straight lines with the pen never leaving the paper.

One can only do this by drawing the lines “outside the box” since the instructions never stated do not draw outside the box.

The following website demonstrates the exercise.

Exercise Two: Draw 9 boxes. Divide each box into 4 equal parts without repeating the design.

Based on hundreds of participants taking this exercise, the first box is almost always divided by a plus sign; the second, by an X; then, horizontal lines; then, vertical lines; then the participants are initially stymied. With more creative thinking, they then realize that the way to divide these squares is inexhaustible.

Exercise/Example Three: Remember the tale, Little Prince? One scene exemplifies creativity. Out of nowhere, the Little Prince appears to the pilot whose plane has crashed in the desert. The boy asks the pilot to draw him “a sheep.” Perplexed the pilot attempts 4 drawings to the dismay of the boy. Finally, the pilot draws a box with 3 holes. He states the sheep is inside the box. The boy exclaims, Perfect.

So the lesson from these three examples is that creativity is thinking inside the box, outside the box and no box at all.

How does one regain or become creative?

Aha Moments: Most people believe that creativity occurs during AHA moments and this is possible, but actually these are rare. Nonetheless, an effective negotiator progresses through the problem solving stages AND does not miss possibly transformative moments that might spawn creative ideas.

Planning: More likely than the aha moments is that creative ideas, options and alternatives arise from effective planning. During this planning one can consult with others to get perspectives and feedback within the scope of the situation and outside the scope. Sometimes a person who is not a part of the situation, brings a fresh perspective, fresh idea.

The process of being creativity is contagious. Once one is creative, many others might be. If another is hesitant, they may be provoked into thinking by asking, Why not or What if?

Creativity: Once creativity is on the mind, one will see it or create it everywhere.

-The feature picture is the universal lid for pots and pans solving the multiple lid situation.

-One government discovered they could save $8,000 per corner intersection by creating a wheelchair ramp at the corner of the sidewalk rather than 2 on either side.

-Some cities want to create pedestrian friendly intersections so they implemented “the Scramble crossing.” This type of crossing allows pedestrians to cross across or diagonally. Sometimes this is called the “Barney Crossing” named after the New York City intersection where Broadway meets Battery Place and State Street.


The General Electric commercial entitled Imagination at Work is a great creativity conclusion. Here’s the voiceover script:

“Ideas are scary.

They come into this world ugly and messy.

Ideas are frightening because they threaten what is known.

They are the natural born enemy of the way things are.

Yes, ideas are scary,and messy, and fragile, but under the proper care, they become something beautiful!”

* Source: “The Behavior of Successful Persuaders,” Neil Rackham, Huthwaite Research Group Limited, Negotiation, Roy Lewicki

** The Art of Creativity: A Vital Skill, Author John Maxwell

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