Roger Fisher and Bill Ury invented ‘principled interest based bargaining’ in their 1981 classic conflict book ‘Getting to Yes’.
I was recently with a Trade Union organizer who said: ‘Yes obviously interest bargaining is now the common approach’. But when I talked to him, to business managers, to the US military, to people involved in conflict, there really is not much grasp of the difference between traditional positional, win-lose bargaining and Fisher/Ury interested based win-win bargaining. It is just another slogan, another half grasped concept, people seem unable to operationalize effectively, so they are doing positional bargaining and calling it interest based. So here goes my attempt to delineate the differences, which is not quite the same as helping you operationalize them, but it’s a start. At least you won’t think you are doing interest based bargaining when you are still stuck in old win-lose positional thinking:
- Positional bargaining focuses on trying to ‘win’ the conflict, treating it like a football match and sees the only alternatives as win or lose (or I suppose stalemate/draw)
- It assumes that what is being disputed is fixed and cannot be grown in the process of the conflict; so all that matters is what share one side gets relative to the other
- Interest based or win-win bargaining assumes that what is being disputed can be grown; that there is no fixed cake to be divided and while the share of each side is interesting, it is better to spend some of your focus on growing what is being divided
- To achieve an interest based bargaining approach, requires each side to interrogate its real interests, not its historical demands or fixed positions. What do they really want out of this situation
- This can be done by taking any position and repeatedly asking ‘why?’, ‘why?’ to each successive answer
- And once both sides have drilled down to their underlying interests, they have a much better shot at actually meeting those interests.
- And the best way to do this, is then to collectively or privately ask the question ‘what if‘ about all the ways to meet these interests.
- The interest based deal that emerges can then be created out of all the possibilities for resolving the dispute and checking them against the interests uncovered to get the best deal for both sides
- Essentially, this is essence is the Conflict Model at the heart of this blog
- But is it hard to get people to think like this: it is so counter intuitive: you mean both sides can gain? Duh! And trust me, it is profoundly psychologically threatening to some people not to demonize the other side in conflict
Another way to put this: