Finding Mutually Beneficial Situations

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After separating the people involved in mediation from the problem at hand and discerning the interests, rather than positions, of each party the constructive portion of mediation can begin. Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton suggest the next step is to create options that allow for mutual gain.
In the midst of a conflict, it can be difficult for involved parties to see all options for solving the dispute.  It falls to the negotiator, as a third party observer to offer creative alternatives. Fisher, Ury, and Patton suggest four major obstacles to creating options: “premature judgment, searching for the single answer, the assumption of a fixed pie, and thinking that ‘solving their problem is their problem.’”
The normal state of affairs in a dispute is to cling to the position of your party.  Inventing new options does not come naturally at this stage. When an alternative is suggested, premature judgment can shut down an avenue to success before it is fully explored.  Often participants may be hesitant to make a suggestion, less it be taken as a concession.  This may be an opportunity for the mediators to call a caucus, a break in mediation to speak individually with each party.  Caucus is confidential, so it allows each party to discuss options with mediators in a risk-free setting.
Similarly, creating options can be stalled by the belief that there is only one correct option.  The agreement is likely to be wiser and more satisfying when it is chosen from a larger pool of choices. The situation may seem like a “fixed pie”.  In other words, it seems as though there is a set amount on the table for one party to gain and the other party to lose. However, this does not have to be the case.  The advances in mediation do not have to be at the expense of either party. 
Additionally, it is a mistake to believe that the other party’s problem is theirs alone. A solution should be developed together to ensure that everyone is pleased with the outcome. Emotions can cloud this way of thinking since it is not intuitive to want to satisfy needs of the other party.  Thankfully, in mediation there is a person present who can help this process along through being an unbiased contributor.
The authors of Getting to Yes have a series of suggestions for how to move past these obstacles. “To invent creative options, then, you will need (1) to separate the act of inventing options from the act of judging them; (2) to broaden the options on the table rather than look for a single answer; (3) to search for mutual gains; and (4) to invent ways of making their decision easy,” (Fisher, Ury, & Patton 1991).
Parties should begin with an open brainstorming session.  Nothing is being decided, gained, or lost, it’s just being brought to the table for consideration. Operate under the assumption that there is no singular solution; there may be a number of positive outcomes. Find mutually beneficial scenarios by identifying shared interests and unite differing interests. Put aside the battle of wills and use fair, objective criteria to evaluate possible solutions. Above all, focus on finding a wide agreement, beneficial for everyone involved.

Charlyn Pelter