Move Negotiations Forward by Unmasking the Underlying Interests

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 

Move Negotiations Forward by Unmasking the Underlying Interests

From Negotiating the Impossible | By Deepak Malhotra

What seems like one contentious issue is sometimes composed of multiple hidden interests that are reconcilable. In such situations, you may be able to overcome stalemate by unmasking the underlying interests. For example, consider an employee who is haggling over an increase in salary with an employer who is clearly unwilling to agree to the raise. The reason may be that the employer does not think the employee deserves such a large increase in pay.

If so, one option would be for the two of them to “meet in the middle” and find an amount they can both live with. If they can’t find such a number, they may have to go their separate ways. But what if the employer thinks the employee’s demand is fair, and the only reason she is saying no to the initial ask is that her budget is limited for this year? In that case, instead of meeting in the middle, it may be wise to split the issue into “salary this year” and “salary next year.” This way, the employer can delay a hit to the budget, and the employee gets a much higher salary starting the following year.

In other words, it may be possible for both sides to meet their underlying interests (getting a higher raise, staying within budget), but this will only happen if they stop arguing about “what they want,” and start discussing their motivations for “why they want it.” This is referred to as shifting from positions (what people want) to interests (why they want it). Even when you have opposing positions on an issue, you might have compatible interests. The sooner you shift from arguing over positions to exploring underlying interests, the more quickly you will ascertain whether the needs of both sides can be reconciled.

Incompatible positions might be hiding reconcilable underlying interests. Understanding why the other side wants something can lead to better outcomes than continuing to argue over competing demands or trying to meet in the middle.

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