Interest Based Mediation

Each mediator has their own personality and negotiation style. Additionally, there are several negotiation models available to parties in a dispute who wish to resolve that dispute. Kurt Bickes believes that the style of negotiation best suited for mediation is called “interest-based negotiation.” The theory of interest-based negotiation is that the parties are much more likely to come to a mutually satisfactory outcome when their respective interests are met than they are when one “position” wins over the other. In almost all disputes, there is the question of a “pie” and how best to divide it. The traditional form of negotiation, characterized by the assertion of opposing positions by the parties, is referred to as “position-based negotiation.” This style of negotiation tends to view the pie as fixed, such that a greater share for one means a lesser share for the other: a “zero-sum game.” By focusing on “interests” to be satisfied, rather than “positions” to be won, the parties are often able to “expand the pie,” giving each side more, thereby producing a “win-win.” There are often many interests behind any one given “position.”

If parties focus on identifying those interests, they will increase their ability to develop win-win situations. William Ury and Roger Fisher, in their book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” 3rd Ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), sets forth the classic example of interest-based negotiation.

In this classic example, there is a dispute between two little girls over an orange. Both girls take the position that they want the whole orange. Their mother serves as the moderator of the dispute, and based on their positions, cuts the orange in half in gives each girl one half. This outcome represents a compromise. However, if the mother had asked each of the girls why she wanted the orange–what her interests were–there could have been a different, win-win outcome. This is because one girl wanted to eat the meat of the orange, but the other just wanted the peel to use in baking some cookies. If the mother had known their interests, they could have both received all of what they desired, rather than just half.

Interest-based negotiation produces solutions which are generally more gratifying for all involved in the negotiation, as the true needs and concerns of both sides will be met to some degree. If the job of the mediator is done well, interest-based negotiations can create a situation where parties which were once hostile and adversarial towards each other begin engaging in a collaborative process whereby the parties actually end up trying to help each other solve a problem.