Negotiation: Interests > Positions

Allow me to indulge in a little negotiation parable. Don’t worry, it involves cake.

Sponge cake

Picture this. You and your friend, let’s call her May, are both in the mood for some procrastibaking.

In front of you both is half a dozen lovely eggs.

You both need eggs for your baking.

You want eggs. But you also want to be fair to May because she is your friend, and because she makes a quality creme brûlée.

What do you do?

Eggs, free range of course

Let me guess… You divide them in half. You take 3, May takes 3. Everybody wins a prize. Seems like a good deal. Right?

Well, that depends.

As it happens, you want to make a pavlova, which requires 6 egg whites and zero egg yolks. You have to buy 3 extra eggs and throw away all of your yolks.

May, on the other hand, wants to make a custard tart, which requires 4 egg yolks and zero egg whites. May is forced to buy 1 more egg and throws away 4 perfectly good egg whites.

So, together you consume 10 eggs. You only use 4 full eggs and 2 egg whites. You could have met all of your needs with 6 eggs, saving you the extra cost and reducing waste.

The problem is that both sides went in with a position (‘I want the eggs’) and negotiated on that basis. You negotiated in good faith and came to what you considered was a fair and reasonable deal.

But fair and reasonable is not always the best measure of a good deal. What is a good deal will depend on the interests underlying your position.

In this story, your interest is that you want to make a pavlova and need 6 egg whites. May’s interest is that she wants to make a custard tart and needs 4 egg yolks.

Had you and May started by stating your interests, you might have decided to split the whites and yolks between you. Neither of you would have had to buy eggs and there would have been little waste.

Focusing on interests over positions increases your chances of finding creative ways to ‘expand the pie’ and make efficient deals.


Getting to Yes

I have written previously about ‘Getting to Yes’ and principled negotiation. The interests > positions idea is a building block of principled negotiation.

Next time you find yourself butting heads with someone, ask yourself, why have they taken that position? What are their interests? Can I meet those interests in a different way that better suits my interests?

Good luck!

What do you think makes a good negotiator?

Thought Leader(s): Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton (Harvard) 

Source(s): Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton (2012) ‘Getting to Yes’, 2nd Edition, Penguin. 


One thought on “Negotiation: Interests > Positions

  1. Pingback: The Road to a Fair Deal is Paved With Good Intentions. And Something Else. | thingsilearnt

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