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Whether you are trying to resolve a workplace conflict, get a raise, purchase a home, or choose a vacation destination with your spouse, the key to a successful negotiation is understanding your interests and those of the other party. Interests are what underlie what the parties say they want. If you don't know that, you don't know what the currency of the negotiation really is. Like a traveler with foreign money, you don't know the real value of what you have and/or what the other person really needs.

Interests vs. Positions

"This is what I want. This is what I'm willing to do." This is our position. It's what we say we want. Say you're negotiating a salary raise with your boss. Your position might be: "I've compared my salary to other people doing similar work. I think I should get a $10 per hour raise to bring me in line with my peers." When we frame it like this, it becomes virtually impossible to accept any other solution, but when we identify our interests, more possibilities present themselves.

Of course, the extra money will be great, but the underlying issue may be that you feel you are not being treated fairly or that your work is not valued. That's the interest, and there could be many solutions to remedy these feelings - even if you do not get a raise. Maybe your employer gives you an extra week of vacation; maybe she institutes flex time that enables you to work a four-day week; maybe you get to leave early on Fridays.  How about a better office space? Maybe it's just a matter of clarifying/recognizing your role better to avoid some conflict with a peer in the office.

Examining Your Interests

Your position is just one version of the solution you seek; it is just one possible way to get what you really want. You have to distinguish between what you tell the other side you want and what you really need. Many times, it's not as transparent as you might expect. We tend to get hung up on positions: we want the problem to be resolved, and this is the way it must be done. We get hung up on defending our logic on how we arrived at the solution rather than focusing on the interests we are trying to serve. There's more than one way to skin that cat. You really have to examine what you want and need rather than just the reasoning around how you think that should be achieved.

The Other Party's Interests

The next step is a somewhat speculative process - trying to figure out what the other party's interests are. Sometimes they don't even know - at least not in a conscious way.

They may also be stuck on defending their own reasoning about how to satisfy their interests. Let's go back to our pay raise scenario: the employer's position may be that she doesn't want to lose a good employee, she wants to pay what is affordable, but can't give everyone a raise. Maybe there has been some temporary setback with a lost account, or tension about shrinking revenue. What does the employer really want?

If you're the employee seeking a raise, you need to understand this. You also want to assess your situation: how important am I? What would they do if they lost me? What will it cost to replace me in terms of money, training and inconvenience? You may not know with complete accuracy, but if you are honest and objective with yourself, you can usually come very close.

What if you're easily replaceable? What if your employer just needs a warm body for the job? What if there is high turnover for your position anyway? You don't have much leverage - but you do have some. You have to get the other side to understand their interests better; for instance, your employer may underestimate the cost and hassle of replacing an employee. You may be better than average at your job, and losing you would set them back. Your negotiation is centered around getting them to see this. If they don't it's their loss unless you don't have some better alternative - your BATNA.

The goal of negotiation is to get to a place where both parties realize they have interests and know clearly what they are; hopefully they're not mutually exclusive and you can start to explore resolutions that satisfy everyone. The alternative is going back and forth at the level of positions - trying to get as close to positions as possible. (Employer: how about a $5/hr raise? Employee: No. I need $9/hr at least...etc.)  This is probably a good way to ensure no one is really satisfied even if you do make a deal, because the underlying interests are not addressed.

Contributed by John Curtis, Attorney and Conflict Coach


Larry Hart

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