An Overview of Interest Based Negotiation Strategy
Interest Based Negotiation is a negotiation strategy that focuses on developing mutually acceptable agreements based on the interests of the parties rather than their positions. Interests include the needs, desires, concerns, and goals that are important to each side. These are the underlying reasons why people become involved in conflict.
The theory of this strategy is that people will be more likely to be able to reach an agreement when their interests are met rather than when one “position” wins over the other. This is called “positional bargaining,” and this is what we see most often in the practice of law. This is when each side has a fixed, opposing viewpoint (position) from the other which tends to result in either a compromise or no agreement at all and ultimate litigation.
Compromises may split the difference between the parties, giving each side half or a portion of what they want, but they do not usually satisfy the true interests of the parties. Interest based negotiation strategy, though, can potentially give both sides what they want and actually create joint value for the parties. This is important because in most cases there will be a continuing relationship between the parties. For them to have an agreement that is satisfying to both sides will serve to enhance their future relationship.
This is especially important for divorcing spouses who want to be able to effectively co-parent their children and for their children who want to be able to have their parents be able to work together and get along for their benefit.
Identify Each Side’s Interests
The first step in interest-based negotiation is to identify each side’s interests. This can take some work by the professionals involved and requires asking questions, listening well, and asking more questions. For example, if one spouse in a divorce is insisting on keeping the marital home and the other wants to sell it, the job of the negotiator is to get each person to talk about why they feel the way they do, what their concerns are, etc.
The goal is to figure out why people feel the way they do and why they are asking for what they are asking for. The questions are being asked to understand their interests better and not to challenge them. And the answers given by each side help the other side to understand the other’s interests and needs. This is extremely valuable in helping each side understand the other’s perspective.
Example of an Interest-Based Negotiation Strategy
The classic example of showing how to create joint value and interest based negotiation strategy is that of a dispute that two children have over an orange. Both children take the position that they want (must have) the whole orange. The mother of the children hears from each of them about wanting the orange, and based on their positions, cuts the orange in half and gives each of them half. This outcome is called a compromise.
But what if the mother had asked each child why she wanted the orange? What if she had asked each one what she wanted to do with the orange? If she had, there would have been a different outcome and each child would have gotten what she wanted, because one child wanted to eat the inside of the orange and the other child wanted the rind to use for baking some cookies. If the mother had asked questions to determine what they wanted, then each child could have gotten all of what they wanted, rather than half.
Steps for Effective Interest-Based Negotiation:
Separate the people from the problem by identifying the interests, needs and goals of each side. This is done by asking open-ended questions and allowing each side time to respond to these questions, and this in turn helps each side to gain a better understanding of the other side’s perspective. Clear communication is almost always at the root of any dispute, and once each side can clearly articulate their own interests and also hear those of the other side, progress can be made.
Focus on interests and not positions. The goal here is to keep the parties focused on why they want what they say they want rather than just stating what they want. Again, when people hold fast to their positions, it is the rare occasion when both sides get what they say they want. When people are helped to express interests and needs rather than positions, then the conversation and communication is more effective and both sides are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.
Examples of positions
“I have to keep the house.”
“I want 50/50 custody of the children.”
“I will not ever pay spousal support.”
Examples of interests
“I think it’s important that the children stay in the house so there isn’t too much change for them all at once.”
“I’m afraid you will keep the kids from me and I don’t want to be just an every other weekend dad.”
“I need to know that I will not have to pay support forever and that you understand you need to get a job and help out.”
Brainstorm options once the interests of the parties are known. This is when all options anyone can think of are listed and neither side evaluates the options until all options are listed. These possible solutions should attempt to meet the interests and needs of each party. Once a number of options are generated, then the parties can evaluate the options. In this way, the parties often come up with new and creative ideas for meeting their interests and needs that no one had even thought of before. The goal is for each side to have enough of their interests met that they view the outcome in a positive and satisfying way.
Benefits of an Interest-Based Negotiation Strategy
Interest based negotiation strategy takes time and effort, but the outcome is more likely to be mutually satisfying to the parties as well as more enduring. The bottom line is there are an infinite number of solutions that can be brought to the table to help people resolve their disputes in ways that will meet their interests and needs, and interest based negotiation is the vehicle by which those satisfying resolutions can be achieved.
Lynchburg Family Law Attorney M. Marcy Jones is an experienced lawyer trained in collaborative negotiation strategies to help her clients satisfy their interests in the divorce process. To learn more, call 434-845-2463 for an appointment. Here are reviews and testimonials from some of Marcy’s clients.