There’s a well-known story about an orange that goes like this: Two people are fighting over the last orange left in the kitchen. Both claim they absolutely need it to make their favorite dish. They argue back and forth while becoming increasingly frustrated that the other won’t give in. Finally, in exasperation, they decide to divide the orange equally, with each taking one-half of the piece of the whole fruit. They each then finish their dishes – one squeezes his orange half to extract the juice, the other grates the peel off his half.
The result: Neither person has the right amount for his dish and neither is happy. They argued their respective positions (each claiming he needed the orange) instead of addressing their real interests (the reason they needed the fruit) and neither was satisfied with the outcome of the dispute. That’s usually what happens when people focus on positions instead of interests.
When people argue their positions, they take a particular viewpoint that leaves little room for negotiation. The difference in positions usually can’t be bridged. It’s a a win-loose philosophy that requires the other side to be viewed as an opponent who must be overcome.
Interests, on the other hand, often enable people to move forward. Interests are defined as “desires, concerns, and fears that underlie people’s positions. In many cases, interests link up to tangible items that people say they want…”
The benefits of interest-based negotiation are tremendous:
When everyone understands the interests and concerns that lead a person or group to take a position on an issue, they often find that some of those interests are mutual, that both sides at the table are trying to achieve the same goal, just taking different approaches. And they frequently discover that what at first appear to be competing interests are not really competing at all. Dealing with each other in this way makes it possible to generate and consider options to satisfy particular interests that may never have been considered before.
(Image via Arnaud Desbordes)