If you can figure out a way to get your interests and needs met--while meeting at least some of theirs too--you are much more likely to get them to agree.
This creates the proverbial "win-win," and makes it much more likely that you can actually reach an agreement with the other side.
In their best-selling negotiation book, Getting to Yes, Fisher, Ury, and in the Second Edition, Bruce Patton list the five "principles" of a negotiation strategy they call "Principled Negotiation." Their second principle is "focus on interests, not positions."
As Fisher and Ury explain on page 42, "Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide." So your interests are the underlying reasons--the fundamental things you really want out of a negotiation or a conflict outcome.
For example, people who are against immigration in the US (their position), are often in precarious economic positions and they are afraid that immigrants could take their job--or get a job they might otherwise be able to get. Or, they might be afraid about crime, and they may have been led to believe that immigrants commit more crimes than US citizens who have "been here" for a longer time (though the opposite is actually true.) Or, they might be afraid that immigrants will "dilute their culture" -- bringing in values that are different from the traditional, white Christian values that they see as "core" to the United States. Jobs, security, and secure culture, then, are their underlying interests, while anti-immigration is their position.
If the pro-immigration side can figure out how to reassure the anti-immigration advocates that 1) immigrants won't take their jobs, and may even make more jobs available if they help make the overall economy more successful, 2) that immigrants aren't really a threat to their security and are actually more law abiding than US citizens, and 3) that America has long been a "melting-pot" and immigrants of long ago (for instance Irish Americans and German Americans) are now seen as mainstream Americans, and that (by the way), their basic cultural values and beliefs are still safe --then opposition to immigration might diminish.
The basic idea here, is that conflict positions tend to be either-or, win-lose. They are oppositional--you can't have both. The interests underlying the positions, however, tend to be multi-dimensional, and it is often possible to figure out new and creative ways to meet both sides' interests at the same time.
For more about these ideas, see:
- Summary of Fisher, Ury, and Patton's Getting to Yes
- The Beyond Intractability (BI) essay on Interests and Positions
- The BI essay on Integrative or Interest-Based Bargaining (essentially, principled negotiation)
Question for You:
Have you done this in a particularly tricky or difficult conflict situation? Tell us about what you did and how it worked out. Did it help? What did you learn from the experience? (Answer below in the comment field, but in order to do that you need to be registered as a MBI Discussant.)