How to Identify Interests in Negotiations

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    • 1). Ask everyone at the bargaining table to express concerns and fears associated with the issue at hand. For example, you're negotiating between factory workers and management to reach a compromise on extending the lunch hour. Labor needs more time to get to and from eateries but management is fearful of a drop in efficiency or production. By getting each side's interests on the table, a compromise offering something for everyone can be reached eventually.

    • 2). Find out why participants want to solve the issue. Probing the depth of corporate culture can unearth revelations that may have stayed buried had you not sought to identify each side's interests. Several teachers refuse to boot problem kids out of school. At the negotiating table, administrators learn that the teachers are committed to rehabilitating at-risk children -- a fact that staff, concerned about student body safety, hadn't considered. Once the interests of both sides are on the table, solutions benefiting both interests are easier to negotiate.

    • 3). Probe participants to find out if they're negotiating strictly on behalf of their own interest or whether they've been pressured to support the interest of others. If everyone on staff at a real estate office bans together to oust an agent labeled "hard to work with," one person may not agree, but peer pressure stops her from speaking up. Learning this information early in the negotiation can speed a conversation leading to compromise.

    • 4). Use open-ended questions to push negotiation participants to reveal more about interests that keep them from understanding the other side. Ask questions like "Why?" "What do you want?," "What are your concerns?" and other such probes repeatedly. Understanding emotional triggers that cause people to draw a line in the sand accelerates negotiations, as long as folks don't feel personally attacked by those types of questions.

    • 5). Look for multiple underlying issues. Rarely do negotiation participants wrest with a single interest, yet not everyone recognizes having more than one. A manager has a short fuse for people who make excuses, but doesn't realize that beneath his intolerance is his own history of excuse making. Multiple interests tend to have complex roots like emotional security, control, power, acceptance and fear. Working one-on-one with individuals during negotiations to unearth "issues beneath issues" can be a game changer leading to compromises everyone can applaud.

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