Inventing Options For Mutual Gain

In having a successful conversation a most important factor is finding new options that will give a more satisfactory response to the interests of both you and the other person.

After the problems or issues have been discussed and looked at, and the interests have become clearer, you need to work together to generate options for mutual satisfaction. Often, each of you will have some idea of things which have worked for you in the past or you will be able to say more clearly now what they really need.

Sometimes, however, you may be “stuck” and unable to think of new alternatives. At this point you can help by:

  • Asking some “What it… ” questions.
  • Encouraging creative brainstorming.
  • Separating the problems into smaller segments so that simpler solutions can be found for each segment.
  • Encouraging a “tentative” approach to proposed solutions, asking the disputants to try to imagine what it would be like if they chose this or that suggestion.

In all instances, the solutions must fit the need and address the problems presented.

Four major obstacles to generating options:

  • Making premature judgments.
  • Searching for a single answer.
  • The assumption of a “fixed pie.”
  • Thinking that “solving the problem is their problem.

How to invent creative options:

  • Separate inventing from deciding.
  • Invent first, decide later!

Effective brainstorming principles:

  • Design your purpose
  • Design an informal atmosphere
  • Choose a facilitator to keep the group on track
  • Clarify ground rules”no criticism”
    “off the record”

Follow-up on Promising Options:

  • Broaden the options on the table.
  • Expand the most promising ideas from the brainstorming session.
  • Invent agreements of different strengths.
  • If you can’t agree on substance, perhaps you can agree on procedure.
  • Change the scope of a proposed agreement – put it in smaller more manageable units.
  • Look for mutual gain by expanding the pie.
  • Avoid: “less for you, more for me” thinking. Identify shared interests.
  • Dovetail different interests:”Jack Sprat could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean . . .
    And so betwixt the two of them they licked the platter clean.”

James Melamed, J.D.

Jim Melamed co-founded in 1996 along with John Helie and served as CEO of through June 2020 (25 years).  Jim is currently Board Chair and General Counsel for Resourceful Internet Solutions, Inc. (RIS), home to,, and other leading dispute resolution sites. During Jim's 25-year tenure,… MORE >

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