Creative Negotiating

A Franciscan monk who was a speaker at an international seminar about world peace, was asked if successful negotiations between Israel and Palestine were possible. He called two young people up to the microphone: a Palestinian young man and a Jewish Israeli young man. “Imagine you are brothers,” he told them. “Your father has passed away, and he has left you an inheritance with three assets,” represented symbolically by three coins, which he placed on the podium.
“Your instructions are that you must share the inheritance fairly but you cannot split any of the assets,” the boys were told. “Now you must try to find a creative solution that will get you the maximum possible benefit.” When the Palestinian said he would take two coins and give the Israeli one, everyone laughed again and the monk said, “Well, okay, you have the power to do that, but you are sowing the seeds of conflict.” The Israeli said he was actually thinking of taking one coin and giving the Palestinian two. “Evidently,” the monk guessed, “you feel it’s worth the risk of investing in your adversary in this way, and hope to somehow benefit in the future from this.” The boys sat down.
Next, the monk asked two young women (again one was Israeli, the other Palestinian) to repeat the exercise. It was fairly clear where the monk was going with this, but would the girls get it? “I would keep one coin and give her two,” said the Israeli young woman, “on condition that she donate her second one to a charity, maybe a children’s hospital.” “Good,” said the monk and asked the Palestinian woman if she agreed. She said “I would keep one for myself, and give one to her, and say that we should invest the third one together.” The entire audience stood and applauded for the final solution.
Negotiating is not a game, and it’s not a war, it’s what civilized people do to iron out their differences. There is no point, the monk said, in figuring out how to get the other side to sign something they cannot live with. A negotiated settlement today is not the end of the story, because “there is always the day after,” and a good negotiator should be thinking about the day after, and the day after that.
Our partisan government is an excellent example of what happens when civilized people fail to negotiate with this spirit of cooperation and fairness.
Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work). His website is

One response to this post.

  1. Thank you, Michael. I’ve sometimes imagined how we could employ the trade to which we both are committed against the task of solving such problems as conflict in the Middle East. There must be a third way. I’ve imagined designing a future walk which simulates life 100 years in the future, when no one living today, no one with the grudges and lessons and teachings of bias planted in their youth are ruling either group. Imagine the rulers of that future time came from a small village that enlightened leaders of both parties created today somewhere in the world to be a village where Israelis and Palestinians lived and played together harmoniously. What would such future leaders do? What plans could be co-created, and solutions invented, if this was the perspective?


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