Tough Conflicts? Negotiate Better Solutions

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.
— Dorothy Thomas

One of the toughest negotiations is when one side wins and the other loses. For example, a mining company wants to mine in a forest area and a local government wants to stop the mine because they want to preserve the forest. If one side wins, the other loses.

This is so difficult because each side brings a position and then spends all their energy defending their position or attacking the other side's position. It's just like a tug of war. When one side wins a little, the other side pulls even harder until the side that won begins to lose. 

Another reason this type of negotiation is so difficult is there is no process to manage this conflict. What do we mean? Well, the best-selling book, Getting to Yes, gives us a clue: Focus on interests, not positions. In the toughest negotiations, we need to look beyond positions and explore interests.

The more attention that is paid to positions, the less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties.
— Roger Fisher

When we say explore interests, we mean their interests and your interests too. To check if something is an interest or a position, ask if there is more than one way to satisfy this? If there's only way it's a position, if there's more than one way it's an interest.

To explore interests properly you need a process. The simplest process needs four pieces of paper. Ask the other party to state their position and you write it by hand on one piece of paper. Write it, so you and they are certain you have understood it. Then get the other party to write on another piece of paper your position.

Next for both positions, ask questions like this:

  • How did you decide that's what you want?
  • If you get what you want, what will that do for you?
  • If you don't get what you want, what will that do for you?
  • What are your reasons for that?
  • Can you help me understand more about your position?
  • If we accepted your position, will our colleagues criticise or praise me?

Write the answers for both parties on the same piece of paper. When you have finished, add a title to this page: Our interests.

Out of diversity of interests comes the opportunity to create value.
— Roger Fisher & Danny Ertel

Next, on the fourth piece of paper write the title: Options. Without committing either side to accepting any options on this paper, start to list some options other than the positions already written on other pieces of paper. On the piece of paper: Our interests, write options that will satisfy more of the interests.

In tough negotiations, this simple process moves both parties from arguing over positions to creating options to satisfy: Our interests. Put this in your toolbox for your next tough negotiation.

For more ideas on how to negotiate better, watch out for Stephen Kozicki's book,  The Creative Negotiator: Changing the Focus to Value on all B2B Negotiations, 2nd Ed.