Identifying Interests

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 “Focus on interests, not positions.” This is the second point Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton make in Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.  In other words, when entering mediation, regardless of type, it is important for each party to focus on their overarching interests without getting locked into a “position”.  Fisher, Ury and Patton use the term position to refer to an inflexible list of stipulations one party is holding to.
To combat this, the authors suggest that parties discuss the interests and concerns of each party.  Both sides have multiple interests that are affecting the process of making an agreement. This is as much an opportunity as a difficulty. This process of identifying interests helps to uncover the root of the problem as well as to reveal shared or compatible interests to begin the formation of an agreement.   To convert a steadfast platform into discussable interests, ask “why” to find the motivating factors behind this position.  Or ask “why not” then consider what the other side thinks you want and what interests are causing them to oppose it.
Agreements are easier to make when the basic human needs of each party are secured.  The authors define these needs as security, economic well-being, a sense of belonging, recognition, and autonomy.  These are often the foundation of a party’s larger desires for the agreement. Prior to mediation, it’s a good idea to make a list of goals and interests to ensure they are discussed.  Be specific, honest, and up front about your interests so it is clear to others what they are and why they are meaningful to you.  Similarly, acknowledge the legitimacy of other’s interests.  When stating your position, include the problem first to avoid alienating your listener.  If you immediately state what you want, your listener will tune out to start formulating their rebuttal and they will miss the connection between your solution and the problem.
Focus on finding an agreement rather than refuting the other side’s argument.  Look forward to how to repairing the relationship instead of getting snared into an unproductive argument. To aid this, have a carefully thought out plan going into mediation.  It’s important to be firm in your own interests, but not inflexible.  This is easiest when you are calm and prepared.  It is okay to be tough regarding what you want, but be kind and respectful to the people involved.

Charlyn Pelter