An Intern's Perspective: Why Mediation Works

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Elizabeth Giddings, the Executive Director of Mediation Services, gave me a book to read.  This particular book was her introduction into mediation as a law student.  Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton is a discussion of a research project conducted at Harvard University called The Harvard Negotiation Project. The goal of this project - which brought together scholars from Harvard, MIT, Simmons, and Tufts – is “to improve the theory and practice of conflict resolution and negotiation by working on real world conflict intervention, theory building, education and training, and writing and disseminating new ideas.”
 
Fisher, Ury and Patton begin by identifying the problem that often occurs when two or more parties try to make an agreement.  Rather than trying to work together to find a common solution, the parties establish their position and become inflexible.  The authors point out that this often leads to unwise agreements because there is no longer a focus on finding a solution. 
 
This type of negotiation is inefficient and results in animosity among parties because of the contest of wills created by the established positions. As each person’s position becomes more ingrained, the possibility of agreement slips away and the potential to continue the relationship dwindles.
 
Position bargaining is made even worse when there are many parties.  Coalitions form, it is more difficult to make concessions, and there are often too many positions to satisfy.  Additionally, being nice can complicate bargaining, according to the authors.  This allows the “nice” party to become vulnerable to someone with a hard bargaining style.  This avoidant attitude does not allow for all parties’ needs to be met.
 
Fortunately, the authors provide hope for negotiators. They suggest an alternative form of bargaining referred to as “principled negotiation” or “negotiation of the merits.”  This idea stems from the idea that negotiation should result in wise agreements created efficiently and amicably.
 
There are four basic points to this negotiation form: people, interests, options, and criteria.  It is important to understand that people are not computers and emotions will come into play.  The focus of the discussion should be on the interests of the parties rather than on positions. The discussion should also generate possibilities and options for mutual gains. This is easiest when objective criteria are used to influence the resulting agreement.
 
These four points are used during all stages of the negotiation process.  During analysis information is gathered, organized, and considered. Then a plan is made, including brainstorming ideas, options, and important criteria for making decisions. Finally, during discussion, either an agreement is made or the parties decide that an agreement is not possible. 

Charlyn Pelter