Understanding the Principles Behind Their Interests
The conventional wisdom with regards to negotiations is to “argue interests, rather than positions.” But what does that mean? Well, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to implement new safety measures, a position, it’ll eventually come down to who is right and who is wrong. Instead, if each side looks at why they’re asking for those things we can get closer to a better solution for everybody.
The problem is that interests and positions are sometimes so fraught with moral obligations and deep-set beliefs about the other side that sometimes we need to go one step further. We need to think about the principles that create these interests— the values and beliefs that determine what we want and why we want them. In the Red Thread, that truth is often the Idea, but it can also be a shared Goal or a Problem we both want to solve.
Understanding the principles that shape someone’s interests, and therefore their positions, is the key to coming to a solution that works for everyone. The Red Thread can help: What are the Goals that most people who are going to hear this are going to share? What deeper Problems are they trying to solve? What are those incontrovertible truths, the Ideas that make those Problems impossible to ignore? Address those, and you’ll find common ground.
- Interests vs. Positions, by Mary Rowe, Nils Fonstad, and Robert McKersie at MIT
- The Red Thread Worksheet
– When you have a great idea, one that you think will be irresistible to other people, you know you need to spend some time with it, right? You need to focus on it, get some one-on-one attention, but you also want to make sure that you get the opinion of other people and you want to make sure you actually do the work. Well, that is exactly what the Red Thread Weekend will do for you.
What we try to do in the Red Thread Weekend is focus on you and your idea in a small group setting, never more than eight people, we work with you on your idea one-on-one in front of the group so you get not only that focused attention you want, but the opinion of other people that you need. You’ll walk out not only with a crystal clear understanding of your idea and just how big it is, but also all the tools you need to sell it to other people, to talk about it to other people and even to start outlining the talk itself. I hope I will see you at an upcoming Red Thread Weekend. Just go the redthreadweekend.com.
I think we’ve all heard that axiom of negotiations to argue interests and not positions. But, what does that mean exactly? And is there something that we can do to get to those interests more effectively so that we can close the gap between two opposing sides of the debate? I think, yes, and that’s what we’re going to talk about this week on Find the Red Thread. I’m your host, Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com.
Let’s think about all this through the lens of a classic negotiations example, labor unions versus management. Let’s say that the labor unions want a certain set of safety measures that for reasons we’ll talk about in just a minute, the management opposes. Now, as long as each side are arguing for their position, labor unions pro safety measures, management against those particular safety measures, we’re probably not going to get very far because it’s just a case of, I’m right, you’re wrong, depending on which side you are, and nobody likes to be wrong.
So, each side will dig in and say well I’m right. Here’s why I’m right, here’s why. So, the axiom of arguing interests and not positions suggests that we go one step deeper to understand what is it that people are trying to get through those positions so that we can understand those deeper connections and perhaps a richer well from which to find points of agreement so that we can get to a better outcome from the negotiation.
So, interests would be, for instance, understanding why the labor union wants those safety measures. Obviously, to protect its members, but why do they want to protect its members? So that they can continue to work, continue to function, continue to help the company make money over time.
Why would the management be opposed to those safety measures? Well, they may look at those safety measures as, not that they’re not necessary, but perhaps cost prohibitive in such a way that they’re so expensive that that would start to eat into the profit of the company which would jeopardize the company’s stability long-term. Now, when we get to those interests we can start to see some places where those interests overlap. There’s some themes there of long-term survivability and employability and survivability, all of those things start to be places where perhaps two sides can get closer together.
This came into sharp focus to me a few weeks ago when I was working for a conference and before I gave the keynote I offered to do a series of one-on-one meetings with some of the attendees of that conference so I could work with each of them individually on a particular message they were challenged with in the work they were doing every day. And in some of these cases we’d had very much a negotiation situation going on where the message that they were struggling to get across was one that was running up against an opposing side with the people that they worked with.
And what we found was that with some of these positions and interests, they are so fraught with emotional tension that sometimes we have to go yet one step deeper to, why do people hold those interests in the first place. Now, if we think about that we start to realize that the reason why certain people hold their interests, why the labor union would want to protect its members long-term, and why the management would want to look after the long-term profitability of the company, those interests come from deeper held beliefs and values for what the company stands for, what the union stands for.
Now, if you’re long time listeners of the Red Thread then you’ll start to hear some language there that sounds a little bit familiar. So deeply held values and beliefs are often the things behind our ideas, but they’re also usually the things that drive our perspectives and our goals. So, if we can go one step deeper when we are thinking about a negotiation or a debate and look at those principles behind the issues, then maybe we can find an even richer and less emotional place to have a conversation.
So, if we step back and say, well what are the principles behind why the labor union wants those safety measures, not just the interests, but why do they believe in them? Then we start to get to that long-term survivability piece that was overlapping for both interested parties, for both the labor union and the management, that they believe something about their responsibility for making sure that he company, their charges, are available for the long term.
So, what can you do with them? Well, when we understand that if we argue for principles before the interests, then we have an opportunity to make sure that those interests are even more appropriate to what we’re trying to get and we may get to that point where the positions start to matter less and less.
So, when you’ve got a big gap between two sides and the positions aren’t working and maybe even the interests aren’t working, go that one step deeper and find the principles behind it and use the Red Thread to do it. Say, well, what is it that we’re both trying to achieve here? What is the shared Goal that we both have? Can you look at the principles behind the perspectives that people are taking? What is the way that each side is seeing the world and what are the beliefs that those are founded on? And then finally, what are those really deeply-held beliefs that are dictating the way that they’re approaching the change that each is suggesting?
If we can take those principles and divide them into those pieces of the Red Thread, then we have some real concrete ways to find places to have more discussion, more debate and ultimately a better outcome. That’s this week’s episode of Find the Red Thread. If you’re interested in having me come speak to your group or company or association, please let me know at tamsenwebster.com/contact. As you heard me say earlier, often times that includes offering one-on-one sessions with your attendees or delegates at your conference so that they can really understand how this applies to them. If that sounds of interest to you again it’s tamsenwebster.com/contact. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next episode.