Unlocking The Secret To Mediating Win-Win Solutions

In the world of mediation we hear a lot about positions vs. interests particularly with regard to the negotiation process, but why all the fuss about these two simple words? What relevance do they have to mediation and negotiation? Perhaps even more importantly, can gaining a better understanding of how these two concepts impact conflict improve our daily lives?

The truth is that understanding the concepts of these two words is a very basic part of becoming an effective mediator and negotiator. And yes, that knowledge can definitely have a positive impact on daily life!

Position vs. Interest

Since baseball season is upon us, let’s look at the concept of positions vs. interests from the perspective of Major League Baseball. The expected outcome of a major league game is that one team will win and the other team will lose. A baseball player plays either offense or defense at various points throughout the game. When you are playing defense in the field, your purpose is singular – defend your position; catch, or otherwise stop any balls that are hit in your field position, and return them to the infield.

Unlike baseball players, effective mediation and mediators do not focus on generating win/lose outcomes, they focus on creating win/win outcomes. Mediated agreements are most effective when both parties engage and participate in creating the terms of the agreement. The parties’ involvement in the process ultimately creates the buy-in required for parties to stick to the terms of their agreement in the long-term. Win-win agreements are virtually impossible to create when the process is focused on the parties’ positions.

Overlapping Interests

This is because positions become entrenched, and then, must be defended in order to avoid “losing”. Focusing on positions leads to a premature fixation on what the desired outcome of the mediation should be, and then trying to work your way to that desired outcome regardless of how that outcome affects the other party or even the likelihood of reaching an agreement at all. Interests on the other hand, do not become entrenched, and therefore, can be accommodated. In fact, the interests of disputing parties can actually overlap, and it is within those areas of overlap that win/win outcomes are forged.

Back to our baseball analogy… we see interests being accommodated when we see teamwork in action. A fielder’s primary interest is to defend their assigned defensive position. However, if you watch a game you will quickly notice that as soon as a ball is put in play by a batter, the fielders’ interests quickly adjust to accommodate the ball in play. A ball hit on the right side of the field toward the 2nd baseman will result in the 1st baseman leaving his initial position to cover first base and await the throw from 2nd. The shortstop will move from his position toward 2nd base to cover the bag for the 2nd baseman in case a runner can be thrown out there as well. If the ball goes over the head of the 2nd baseman, the right fielder will field the ball, center field will move toward right field to backup the right fielder and the 2nd baseman will move toward the outfield to catch the relay throw from the right fielder. All of these shifts take place because the fielders are leaving their assigned position in order to accommodate their common interest in preventing batters from getting on base and scoring points.

The same holds true with mediations. Once parties’ underlying interests are voiced or otherwise made known, mediators and the parties can begin looking for solutions that accommodate both parties’ interests to a given dispute. The focus is not on a predetermined outcome, but rather on working through the predetermined mediation process in order to create an outcome that accommodates everyone’s interests. Parties who make mutually beneficial sacrifices of their position in order to ensure that their interests are accommodated by the final outcome are much more likely to honor their agreements because they helped create their own win/win outcome.
The same holds true with mediations. Once parties’ underlying interests are voiced or otherwise made known, mediators and the parties can begin looking for solutions that accommodate both parties’ interests to a given dispute. The focus is not on a predetermined outcome, but rather on working through the predetermined mediation process in order to create an outcome that accommodates everyone’s interests. Parties who make mutually beneficial sacrifices of their position in order to ensure that their interests are accommodated by the final outcome are much more likely to honor their agreements because they helped create their own win/win outcome.

Serving Tarrant County and surrounding areas, Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas Inc. is a non-profit community dispute resolution organization of professional volunteer mediators who provide affordable mediation services and teach mediation and dispute and conflict resolution, an effective alternative to litigation. Click here to learn more about the mediation process.  

Author: Jacquelyn Flynt, Executive Director of Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas, Inc.  

 

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