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Go Below the Line, not the Belt - Issues, Positions, and Interests

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08/20/2012 12:43 PM

Last entry we discussed how integrative negotiation is competitive bargaining "A La Mode".  This entry we will dive a little further into what integrative negotiation is, so grab your spoons!

To better understand integrative negotiations, let's first identify three main players in any negotiation: Issues, Positions, and Interests.

Issues are identifiable and concrete concerns the parties need to address for the negotiation to be successful.  Issues will set the negotiation agenda.  Generally, issues are tangible and measurable.

Positions are parties' definable perspectives on the issues which represent each parties' offered means to divide the negotiated object(s).

Interests are the parties' needs, often abstract, that must be satisfied to complete a negotiation successfully.  They often are less tangible or measurable than issues and as such are often not identified like the issues are.  However, interests are very real to the parties and likely the key to reaching a deal in a negotiation. 

Often in competitive negotiations, the issue is defined and the parties take positions.  Interests are not often identified, and the parties' move from the positions until they reach an agreement or end the negotiation.  For example, when Joe and Betty are given a pie, the issue is how to split it.  Joe and Betty's position is what each feels they should get, Joe 3/4 and Betty 3/4.

In Integrative negotiations, the parties look at the interests of the other party, as well as their own.  So Joe's interest may be that his mother baked the pie, so he feels he should get more and Betty's interest is that she skipped breakfast due to an emergency that interrupted her normal routine that morning.

An often used diagram of this relationship is similar to a house, with positions as the walls, the issues the top of the roof, and the distance between the positions and issues as the roof's pitch.  Interests are then below the ground, or the "line".  They are like the foundation, dictating the range of the parties' positions.

Thus, in integrative negotiations the parties "go below the line" by conscientiously exploring each party's interests.  In competitive negotiations, the parties fighting from positions may result in "hitting below the belt", thus ending what could have been a successful negotiation.  By focusing on the interests, the parties may create strategies that satisfy both interests, often in a more creative way or ways that requires less resources.

Interests are not always easy to identify though.  To start the identifying process we will discuss the types of interests in the next entry.

Until then please share your thoughts or stories through a comment.

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