Interest-Based Bargaining

Silke Hansen

Senior Conciliation Specialist, Community Relations Service

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: My favorite illustration of that is the story about the mom who comes in when the girls are fighting about the orange. Everybody thinks they know that story but they don't. She splits it in half and they each get half. After the mom does that she sees that one squeezes it for juice and the other grates the peel. So if the mom would of recognized their interests, they both would have gotten all of what they wanted. A good mediator will understand the concept behind that but a great mediator will take the illustration one step further and say OK one girl wanted juice, but her need isn't orange juice it was needing a beverage. She might have been happy with water or milk, or my personal favorite beer, or coffee or whatever. The other girl needed a seasoning. So if it wasn't orange, it could have been maple or vanilla. Any number of options there.

If you really talk and focus on what the needs are, the orange is one possible solution, but there are lots of others. Beginning mediators are so focused on the orange and who is going to get the orange that they lose out on a whole spectrum of other possibilities because they are allowing the party's to limit the discussion around who gets the orange and what's parts of it. In fact the possibilities of resolving this conflict are much broader. We are not even getting into the possibility that the girls were not really fighting about the orange, but the orange was just a convenient object at that point because they fight over everything. I'm not even going to go there but that might be another piece of it. Regardless, if we just focus on the orange, we are limiting their possibilities, and we are limiting our abilities to help them deal with the conflict.

Q: I've never heard the orange metaphor taken so far.

A: That's exactly my point. Everybody thinks about the orange and what piece of it do you want. But there are some cases, when you spend the most part of the fight discussing the orage, and you're not going to get the orange. But to that people say," I don't know how to resolve that", I think you're selling yourself short. You are not allowing the parties to explore as many options as there really are. You're allowing the orange to limit where we look for possible solutions.