Focus on Interests, Not Positions Interests

Mediation Minute

Stay focused on the interest, not on your position.  Define the problem; you decide on your position.

For every interest there usually exist several possible satisfying solutions to adequately address those interests. Remember that behind opposed positions lie shared and often compatible interests.  Compromising between positions is not likely to produce an agreement which will effectively take care of the human needs and interests that led to the adoption of a certain position initially taken by a party. It is valuable in any negotiation to spend time exploring interests and identifying your interests and the interests of the other party.  So, how do you identify interests?  These are some steps to take:

A. Ask “Why?”

  1. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what motivates the position they’ve assumed.
  2. Explicitly ask, expressing a desire to know the needs, hopes, fears, interests and desires underlying other positions.

B. Ask “Why not?”

  1. Why have they not yet agreed with your proposed solution?
  2. What interests of theirs stand in the way of agreeing with your proposal?

C. Analyze the possible consequences of your solution as the other side would see them.

  1. Short-term consequences.
  2. Long-term consequences.
  3. Economic consequences.
  4. Public opinion consequences.
  5. Legal consequences.
  6. Political consequences.
  7. Psychological consequences.
  8. Personal consequences.
  9. What precedent will be set?
  10. What alternatives will be precluded?
  11. Moral consequences.
  12. The consequences of doing nothing now and reconsidering at a later date.

The most powerful interests are basic human needs- satisfying those needs will increase the likelihood of agreement.  These may include:  security, economic well-being, a sense of belonging, recognition, and control over one’s life or business.

From experience, one of the biggest mistakes I see as a mediator is a failure by both parties to spend adequate time analyzing their interests and the other parties’ interests i.e. reaching a resolution of the dispute or conflict.  Too often the focus is on “me” versus “we” in trying to reach an agreement.