Tips on the Strategy of Interest-Based Negotiation

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In these days before the election the American people are calling upon their elected representatives in Washington and in State capitols around the country to focus on how they can think together to find the solutions we need to move forward. Through the use of purposeful reflective judgment we will be striving to agree on goals that are derived from our core values (controlling debt, being fiscally accountable, supporting the life and work of America’s people, protecting and enriching the future of our children). If we dig in (dominance structure) around our own views as the only way to achieve those values and goals, we will find the negotiation of next steps in gridlock. Better to step back from specific solutions (“We have to do it my way.”) and locate alternative ways to realize each other’s objectives. The solution may require patience, but we can come to a negotiated solution without giving up anything we believe is important.

Traditionally, negotiating has been thought of as trying to reach a compromise between two initial positions on the issue. This kind of negotiation, called positional negotiation, is often adversarial. The process tends to end up with both sides being dissatisfied with the final outcomes, because the process makes them feel forced into making concessions. Neither side is happy with the final agreement. A better method for negotiation, interest-basednegotiation, requires that both sides are satisfied with the chosen solution. Instead of competing in an effort not to give up more than the other guy, interest-based negotiation begins with trying to figure out what each party’s interests are and then working to find a way to achieve the interests of both parties. Interest-based negotiation calls for collaboration and creativity. Both parties strive to find a way for their own interests and the interests of the other party to be achieved. Neither party is expected to give up its interest.

When there is conflict, and it’s possible to delay, sometimes no agreement emerges. Strong critical thinkers know that this kind of delay is a decision too, the decision NOT to act. This kind of delay can have its own consequences, and sometimes the consequences of delay serve one party’s interest and not the other’s interest (we call this using delay tactics). Delay tactics, under the pretext of needing time for a continued fair-minded deliberation, is not a truth-seeking approach to solving problems. It is not the behavior of a strong and ethical critical thinker, and it is not what we want from our elected representatives.

What we need instead is for our representatives to take a new look at the problem, examining the solution methods and evaluation criteria being used in the negotiation. Strong critical thinkers realize that the methods that are used to achieve a result and the criteria used to evaluate the result are themselves, open to review and reconsideration.

Achieving the best solution to an interest based negotiation requires an honest discussion of conditions that make some alternatives seemingly impossible choices for one party or the other. Promises to please collaborators, funding agencies, or constituencies are not valid reasons to remove alternatives from the negotiation. We do not elect our representatives to serve our self-interest alone, we elect them to represent us when decisions need to be made about how to govern all of the people, in consideration of the greater good. Conditions change, and we want our representatives to be responsive to that change. Strong critical thinkers analyze problems as they continue to evolve (analyticity), follow reasons and evidence wherever they lead (truth-seeking), and are comprehensive in their approach (systematicity), as they reconsider the problem in light of new information (maturity of judgment).

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