Negotiations. Basics (II): Interests vs. Positions

negotiation basics 2One of the main principles to undertake efficient negotiations is to negotiate based on interests and to avoid making it over positions.

Negotiations are taken as “battles” with each side places their conditions upfront; only, if agreement is not reached, they adjust those conditions along the negotiating process. Since most negotiators think negotiations are a sum-zero game -that is, moving initial positions are interpreted as a lose- none wants to make any movement that could be used against their initial conditions. This feeling of potential lose unfreezes our brains and constricts the views on other alternatives. Human beings are highly reluctant to changes and the only possibility of changing our initial condition causes us anxiety and panic; so we prefer insisting over and over expecting the other side get tired before us. It is more a fatigue game than an efficient negotiation.

In order to unblock this situation, it is recommended thinking of potential exits and alternatives that we will be willing to accept and explore during the negotiation. The idea is to try visualizing the negotiating process and to anticipate possible paths that might require to adapt our positions and requests in order to reach the agreement. This exercise will make us feel more comfortable by accepting the inherent uncertainty that we will experience during the negotiation and will make easy to apply changes on the way.

At the same time, there is a little trick to unblock any negotiation: to detect the real interest undelaying the other party’s requests. This is about perfectly knowing why the other party is putting this or that condition on the table and understanding what she really needs. Unfortunately, this is barely put into practice since it is seen as a signal of weakness or not having things clear. But, with no doubt, the odds of reaching agreement increases if negotiators keep an innovative and opened mind over the discussion.

Illustrative situation: say there are two passengers adjacently sat down in the airplane arguing about the window cover. The flight attendant decides to investigate what is going on with these two passengers: passenger A demands to keep the window panel opened up (position A) while passenger B wants to close the window down arguing the light bothers him. A deep investigation determines that passenger A wants to enjoy reading (interest A); meanwhile, passenger B is tired and lights would not allow him to deeply fall slept (interest B). The attendant, once knows the real interests of each passenger, decides to accommodate the passenger B in the last free row of the plane, while switching on the seat light of passenger A so he can continue reading.
This is a simple example that highlights the need
of knowing “the real why” in each demand and see what the underlying interest in negotiators’ positions is. We all are, usually, reluctant to show our interests since this might give the other part information that might be used against us. We prefer to keep some things in secret under the protection of privacy. But, in reality, there is much benefit from being transparent. As said in other articles, the only fact of meeting someone to negotiate is already signaling there is a mutual interest so it is not a good choice to partially hide it once the meeting is set; otherwise, we will be just delaying and creating difficulties in the negotiating process and damaging the relationship.