Positions are statements about what a party wants. Interests are the underlying reasons, values, desires and goals that that give rise to a position. The basic problem in a negotiation lies not in conflicting positions, but in conflicting interests. “Interests motivate people; they are the silent movers behind the hubbub of positions. Behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests as well as conflicting ones.” Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes, pp.40-42 (New York: Penguin, 1991).
“Let’s simply define interest as whatever you care about that is potentially at stake in the negotiation. Your interests are why you’re involved in this negotiation in the first place. The same holds true for those people on the other side of the table. Without a clear and accurate assessment of interests, you will fly blind in your deal making.” David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius, 3-D Negotiation, p. 69 (Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2006). Lax and Sebenius join Fisher, Ury and Patton by emphasizing that compatible interests often underlie incompatible positions.
Lax and Sebenius illustrate the need to get interests right by the Fluffy case study. A development firm had assembled most of the land to build a medical center, except for one key parcel which was owned by Ms. Jones. Her small cottage and lot was appraised for about $123,000. However, she turned down progressively higher offers of $138,897, $154,330 $185,196 and finally $306,660. The development firm assumed that this was a price war and that Ms. Jones was trying to exploit them.
The CEO of the development firm intervened in the negotiations and went to her cottage for a visit. He noticed many photos on the wall of a small dog and asked about the dog. Ms. Jones said the dog was Fluffy, who died 3 years earlier and was buried in her backyard. The CEO asked to see Fluffy’s grave site, which Ms. Jones was thrilled to show him. Realizing that the stalemate was more about “feelings”, noneconomic value than economic value (pricing issues), the CEO asked Ms. Jones if she had ever considered what would happen to Fluffy and her grave site after Ms. Jones’ death. The CEO then said, “Wouldn’t a proper memorial, well-tended in perpetuity be a more fitting remembrance of Fluffy?” Ms. Jones liked the idea. The CEO offered to have Fluffy’s remains relocated to the grounds of a prestigious pet cemetery at the development firm’s expense and then offered to pay Ms. Jones $154,330, which was half of the highest offer she turned down. Ms. Jones accepted the offer and stated, “What use does a childless old woman like me have for more money, as long as I can rent a nice flat near Fluffy?” When the real interests behind the positions were discovered, the negotiation was successfully completed. They finally got the interests right. 3-D Negotiation, pp. 25-26.
Negotiation Tip: There was never a pancake so thin that it didn’t have 2 sides. Carefully explore both sides of the conflict, from your perspective and more importantly, from your opponent’s perspective.