There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of, “if you want to understand a man walk a mile in his shoes”. Parties seeking to negotiate a resolution and avoid further confrontation and litigation should be swapping shoes and taking long walks. Seeing the issue from the other side’s perspective and understanding their interests could go a long way to coming to an agreement. The other side won’t agree to your terms because they’re good for you, they may accept your terms if they’re good for them.

An effective approach to mediation and negotiation is to focus on the opposing party’s interests, not their positions (or your positions for that matter). A position is something that has been decided upon; a party’s interests are the reasons for the position. If negotiations are framed as a competition between positions someone will lose and the prospect of a loss may prevent an agreement. If you focus on interests, especially how a resolution addresses the other side’s interests, there’s a much better chance a solution satisfying both parties may be reached.

You could guess what the other party’s interests are, or a better approach may be a frank conversation where both sides ask each other questions about the interests underlying their positions. The other party may have multiple interests at stake and they may contradict each other.

Empathy is Critical to Successful Negotiation

If you want your interests taken into consideration by the other party you should clearly explain them. When the parties feel they are paying attention to each other and honestly making an effort to settle a matter there’s a better chance of reaching a resolution. Discussions should focus on the desired outcome not on past events that created the conflict while being open to different proposals and positions.

Examples of how this works comes from the political world where there is no lack of conflict. Research has shown that liberal and conservatives largely have different moral priorities when it comes to issues, according to Science Daily. Liberals generally tend to be more concerned with care and equality while conservatives are more concerned with group loyalty, respect for authority and purity. A University of Toronto researcher found that with the right moral framing issues normally supported by one end of the political spectrum could be supported by those on the other end.

  • Those describing themselves as conservatives getting a message that same sex couples were patriotic by supporting the country, its economy and society were more likely to support same sex marriage.
  • When told that national health insurance could provide more safety and security to the nation by reducing the chances of widespread disease among citizens, conservatives voiced more support.
  • Liberals voiced more support for making English the country’s official language and increased defense spending if they were seen as ways to reduce discrimination.

Next time you’re involved in a negotiation or mediation remember it’s not all about you and your client; it’s about reaching an agreement that meets at least some of the other party’s interests. To do that you must understand those interests and show how a proposal satisfies those interests.