Rule number one of conflict transformation says: negotiate by interests, not by positions. Why do we consistently fail at this? There might be multiple explanations. Anyhow, it could be a style we carry from the XX Century or from the Cold War era, to negotiate in a “tit-for-tat” way, as if it were a chess game, winner-take-all, or zero-sum game. We all know what it means and we all know it doesn't work anymore.
Negotiating by interests is what allows us to engage in XXI Century negotiation tactics to create shared value, to crowdsource solutions, to transform conflicts into future scenarios of prosperity. That’s what innovation is all about, and we are not talking about technology or business only, but social and political innovation as well.
For example, in discussing climate change, we need more and deeper dialogue and engagement between ecologists and economists, between engineers and lawyers, between artists and entrepreneurs, so that cross-pollination of ideas renders eclectic solutions that no single stakeholder has thought about herself.
Identifying positions is very easy: we usually know where our counterparts stand on all issues. But do we know why? Do they know why? This “why” is key to identify the interests that drive stakeholders into a negotiation or into a stalemate, which is the most likely outcome of a negotiation based on positions.
Starting with why allows us to fully and transparently grasp the essence of our interests, and allows our counterparts to help us satisfy our needs, solve our problems, and achieve our goals. Welcome to the world of co-creation, the world of transversal partnerships, of showing each other’s cards and generating synergy. That is, to jointly generate the greatest possible outcome for everyone involved. If you are familiar with the concept of enlarging the pie, it is precisely that: instead of trying to fight for grabs of the biggest slice one can take, first let us figure out a way to make the pie larger. This will ensure that the slice you get will be bigger than any other slice you could have taken.
Negotiating by interests is boring if you like the thrill of poker, where the winner takes it all and where you are encouraged to lie and bluff if it means winning. It requires authenticity and an attitude of openness. It is incredibly effective if we want to create new value, to go beyond where we could have gone by ourselves, and to reach higher echelons of success.
Success is made by a long chain of partial failures. It is reached when you exhaust all the mistakes that are required to learn the lessons that will make it sprout: a very natural process indeed. As long as we negotiate by interests, this trial-and-error process will lead somewhere prosperous. Otherwise, negotiating by positions will only make us cave in deeper into a vicious cycle of no return. If you have clarity about your position, ask yourself why it is so until you find your interests. Encourage your counterparts to do the same. Become partners into co-creating success. We are all in the same boat anyway, and no one is getting out of it alive, so make the absolute best of it you possibly can.