“An open mind is not an empty one.” – Roger Fisher
My son is eleven years old and he loves the cartoon Star Wars: The Clone Wars™. I walked into the TV room one Friday evening and said, “I’d like you to get your room cleaned up now. We have company coming in from out of town and they will be here in the morning.” Without taking his eyes off of R2D2 he replied, “I’ll do it after this show.” The chore of cleaning the room before company arrives on Saturday had been requested and procrastinated (read “ignored”) for the better part of a week and now it had become urgent. It was time to get it done.
If you are a parent, you know where this is going. “After this show” turns into wasted hours in front of the TV and ultimately, the chore never gets completed. I responded to him by asking, “Why do you want to wait until after this show?” He answered, “Because I want to watch it. It’s a new episode.” Remembering how I was introduced to Star Wars when I was about ten years old, I can appreciate the entertainment value, but now it is time to get to work. Pulling out some negotiating tactics on my eleven year old, I acknowledged his interest, but not his position by saying, “I remember being your age and how I liked Star Wars too and I can understand why you want to see this new episode. Why don’t I record it on the DVR and as soon as your room is clean, you can finish watching the episode and I’ll watch it with you.”
Wisely understanding that he had no appropriate response that would gain his position to watch the show now, he concurred and went off to the disaster area more commonly called his “room.”
Negotiating in business is no different from the conversation I had with my son. Every negotiation shares two common elements. These two elements are referred to as “positions” and “interests.”
A position is the stated request of the other person. In the example with my son, his position was watching the television show right now. A position in a business negotiation could be a price, a delivery date, a brand of technology, or an upgrade to a product or service.
- “I won’t pay a penny more than $580.”
- “There has to be at least 25 hours of project management for each deployment phase.”
- “I’d like to buy it, but only if you can have it installed and running by July 2nd.”
Positions are the result of the person’s attempt to satisfy their underlying interests. In their minds, the position they have taken is the best solution for satisfying their interests.
A person’s interest is the underlying end result they are seeking. And, while not always obvious, interests can usually be satisfied with several different positions. A classic example is the story of a husband and wife in the kitchen. The wife is about to prepare a ham in the oven and she begins to tell her husband that she’s going to cut off the ends of the ham and then place it in the pan for baking. Her husband immediately begins to think that cutting off the ends of the ham will cause the meat to dry out and he argues that they should not cut off the ends. They both have the same interest, “prepare a juicy and delicious ham for dinner” but their positions seem to be at odds with each other. The husband asks, “Why do you want to cut off the ends before you cook it?” To which his wife replies, “That is the way my mother always cooked it.” Testing his fate the husband responded with, “That’s no reason. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s the best!” After realizing that she was not quite sure why her own mother had cut the ends off, the wife decided to call her mother to get information for crafting her rebuttal to her husband. When she asked her mother why she cut the ends off the ham, her mother replied, “Well dear, that’s because I didn’t have a pan big enough to hold the entire ham.”
Sometimes we humans tend to get an idea of what position we should take in a situation to satisfy our underlying interests. If we get too attached to our position, we may begin to close our minds to alternative positions that may actually satisfy our interests even better. In negotiating, always try to understand the other person’s underlying interest. Many positions can be used to satisfy an interest.
When you can dissect a negotiating request into “positions” and “interest”, it can be much easier to gain the common ground (interest) by first understanding “why” they are taking this position. Once you understand the interest, you can propose your own (position) solution to help them achieve the same interest.
Now, I just need to make sure my kids don’t read this article… at least not for a couple more years.
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