The next animal in the Chinese zodiac is the Snake. The Snake is known for being goal focused.
In negotiation or mediation, it is easy to understand people’s positions. Positions are tangible, quantifiable and usually preceded by “I want…”. It is usually very easy for people to identify their positions. In 1981, Fisher and Ury wrote their seminal negotiation book, Getting to Yes, which set out to reveal a new way of negotiating. They urged people to understand their interests and those of the other side. Interests are the needs, fears and concerns which drive our positions.
I remember sitting in mediation where a party, Bill repeated his position and became increasingly voluble as he noted that this was a deal breaker. “I want X, or I’m walking”. The other party, Ben was confused as the asset, “X” represented a significant monthly cost and would present an ongoing burden to Bill. No matter how many times Ben tried to explain that this was a bad deal for Bill, Bill reiterated this was the deal breaker.
For Bill, the asset “X” was identified as a must-have and Bill’s sole focus became achieving this position. As this was a mediation and not a negotiation, we were able to have a discussion to try and understand the interests underlying Bill's position. As Bill spoke it became clear that “X” represented security, continuity and legacy for Bill. All of these interests could be met in other ways which were less burdensome to Bill. By using the mediation process, Bill began to focus on his interests rather than his position.
The lesson in this is to stay focused on your goals and not your positions. The first step in negotiation or mediation is to understand what your interests are. What is it you really need? What needs, fears and concerns need to be addressed? If you have capacity you can take the next step and think about what the other person's interests are. Without the initial reflective step of considering your interests, a party can become wed to a ‘deal-breaker’ position that doesn’t actually meet their needs.