Problem Solving



The theory behind our simulations and software is that negotiation, mediation, and all forms of group problem solving are best undertaken within a loose structure. As part of our research we have conducted thousands of negotiation simulations and found that there are certain steps that must occur and if they occur in the right order, the chances of a successful outcome are greatly increased. We did not invent the steps, however, we have distilled a negotiation, mediation, and problem solving process from observing many negotiations, as well as examing the writings of Fisher and Ury, Lewicki, Lax and Sebenius, Kolb, Tannen, and other experts in the field for common insights that can be applied by everyone.

What do we believe are the steps of all problem solving journeys?

1. Strategic introductions (why are each of you at the table)

2. Group agenda formation (process planning is key to sustaining relationships during the tough times of bargaining and other trust busting steps)

3. Sharing information on interests, facts, standards of fairness, and alternatives (IFSA - Interests, Facts, Standards of Fairness, and Alternatives if the deal falls through) Note that Alternatives is referred to as BATNA by Roger Fisher Getting To Yes, Reaching Agreement Without Giving In.

4. Finding common ground (where do we all agree, who are my allies)

5. Brainstorming (suggesting creative solutions without judging)

6. Bargaining (hopefully suggesting your Best First Offer with something to satisfy everyone's needs)

7. Finalizing (getting it down on paper, finding agreement, using deadlines, a little last minute trading)

Why do these work?

All negotiations cover these steps, whether explicitly or implicitly. If you try to skip one or more steps you will find it comes back to haunt your efforts to find an efficient, stable, and wise solution.

How do these steps fit with your experience? Send us your reactions to this model for training and actual negotiations/mediations. We suggest you will find its use results in more efficient interactions with: a. Less wasted energy, b. A higher level of trust c. More clarity about the zone of agreement d. A greater willingness to undertake brainstorming, use of objective standards, interest based bargaining, and post-settlement bargaining

What is your goal in the negotiation or problem solving exercise? a. Any deal (the easiest to achieve, just get me out of here) b. Fair deal (whatever you want dear, the honeymoon phase, you ignore your needs) c. Best deal (the competitive deal, crush the other side, only your needs count) d. Best fair deal (you gain power by satisfying their needs at least acceptably and your needs well, you listen and understand their needs or interests and put together a package offer)

Why a package offer?

When you make a package offer that speaks to the needs of the other side they will be more likely to accept your best first offer. Also, you anchor the discussion. If you can find a way to satisfy their needs they will be open to satisfying your needs. Package what you can do to increase the pie, create future opportunies, trade things the others want more than you, and offer a plan to divide up the pie.

All negotiation is bargaining?

Wrong. See the 7 legs of the journey described above. Each leg is vital and if you skip one it will come back to bite you.

How do your simulations and software fit into this theory?

Our simulations are paper based or Internet based exercises to learn mutual gains bargaining, planning skills, communication and problem solving skills. We have over 25 exercises that take about 2 hours to set up, run, and debrief. The games have been used with thousands of participants over the last 5 years ranging from 6th graders in Ohio to sophisticated biotech salespeople at Genentech, business students at Wake Forest University, MPA students at Clark University, Law students at Harvard, BU, and Northeastern Law Schools; professionals and community members at the US Environmental Protection Agency, Education students at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, Middle School students in Brookline, Massachusetts, The National Association of State Legislatures, and elsewhere. These exercises include at least five different games in the follow areas: 1. Family (divorce, vacation planning, nursing home, inheritance, marriage counseling) 2. Environment (brownfields, laboratory accident, clean-up, sustaining fish population, waste fransfer facility siting, finding buried treasure on fragile natural area, surviving a plane crash in Alaska) 3. Literature and History (games that are inspired by the bible and the great flood, salem witch trials and The Crucible, treaty of Versaille, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies) 4. Business and Management (avoiding a strike, a buy out situation, selling and buying chemicals, developing housing, developing a budget, recruiting new employees using an agency) 5. Introductory simulations (surviving the plane crash, finding buried treasure, buyer-seller, dividing grandma's things)

What about the software? Negotiator Pro software for Windows 3.1, 95, 98, NT, Vista and Windows 7 is a useful program to plan the negotiation strategy. The latest Version 5.0 International has 7, 10, or 35 questions, and some 700 mini-tutorials on negotiation theory and practice. Its hyperlinked glossary provides information and new ideas. The small expert system helps identify personality types on your side and on the other side. The template of questions (7, 10, or 35) helps you organize and communicate your strategy with your team members.


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