Interest Based Bargaining: Pat 2

In my last post, I extolled the benefits of interest based approaches to contract negotiations.  Today we’ll delve into some of the misconceptions or myths about Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) as well as some of the drawbacks or limitations of this approach.

Myth: Interest Based Bargaining is Fluffy, Slow, and Inefficient

One of the common things I hear from prospective clients is that IBB is just too “fluffy” for their circumstances.  These are practical people with serious contractual agreements to reach. These individuals seem to fear that IBB will require them to sit in circles and delve into the weeds of people’s hurt feelings for days on end before ultimately uncovering peace, love, and patchouli for all and singing Kumbaya.   Yuck!  I’m all for a good peace circle AND…this could not be further from the truth in a good interest based process.

Reality: Interest Based Bargaining is Focused and Highly Structured

A well facilitated IBB processes uses clear structure and processes which help ensure key benefits for the group.  These include:

  1. Teams know what items will be discussed and when so they can come prepared with information to share.
  2. Issues to be discussed are thoughtfully organized and methodically addressed as efficiently as possible.
  3. Tasks can be managed so progress can be made outside of the bargaining room between sessions with the full team.
  4. Parties can be hard on problems but easy on people.
  5. Creative possibilities can surface that can exceed both sides’ expectations for outcomes.

It is true that there is space for human emotions in interest based processes.  To be honest, human emotions pay a role in bargaining even with traditional approaches.  Sadly, with traditional approaches, the emotions that most often surface are simply anger, resentment, and frustration.  Even worse, with traditional approaches the emotions on the table tend to make things worse and escalate conflicts.  In contrast, when welcomed and acknowledged as a part of the “story” in interest based processes, these emotions are valuable clues that may indicate unmet needs.  Recognition of emotions and these potential unmet needs can produce powerful outcomes when teams start working collaboratively on solutions.  In these cases, emotions are actually useful tools in deescalation and in moving parties towards solutions.

Regardless of the emotions at the table, structures and processes including detailed agendas and timelines help keep things in perspective and keep groups accountable for making progress collectively.  The Conflict Cycle (more on this in the next post), helps teams track issues through different phases of resolution and gives clear direction to the group for what comes next.  The process still takes time but I would posit that IBB doesn’t necessarily take any more time than traditional approaches AND the benefits beyond the contract agreement (improved trust and relationships, skill building, collaborative culture development, etc.) make the investment all the more worthwhile.

Myth: Interest Based Bargaining Won’t Work With Firm Positions

One prospective client this year told me, “Look, both sides are firm in our positions and I don’t see any of that changing so I don’t see any reason that trying to work ‘collaboratively’ will get us unstuck.”  The idea behind this thinking that if neither side was willing to compromise in their positions, there wasn’t really any room for creative new solutions.  If no amount of friendly cajoling was going to shift their positions, there was really no reason to employ an interest based approach.

Reality: Interest Based Approaches are a GREAT Way to Get Unstuck!

Although I respectfully deferred to this individual’s decision, the logic could not have been further from the truth.  With a traditional approach, he’s right.  No amount of talking through each side’s position would shift either one and the stalemate would ultimately be decided in arbitration or court.  With an interest based approach, however, teams uncover what’s really behind their (previously deeply held positions) and discover new and innovative ways of satisfying them.

I have found that even when parties are fighting about money (as happens in many many cases), most times it’s not really about the money.  Admittedly, on a certain level, it is about the money; people need to make ends meet and compensation needs to adequately live their lives with satisfaction.  That said, deeper issues of acknowledgement, respect, and feeling valued as members of an organization are equally if not more important.  Indeed, it is a sense of justice, of fairness in compensation that matters more than the dollar amounts themselves.  In traditional approaches, parties often don’t get past the dollars and cents.  In IBB, dollars and cents are on the table AND, in truly understanding one another’s perspectives and priorities, creative solutions to seemingly intractable differences surface.

Final Myths

  1. In IBB, only one parties’ interests are acknowledged.  NO!!  Successful resolutions depend on the consideration and balancing of both/all parties interests.
  2. IBB processes depend on existing trust.  WRONG!!  Often, trust is low at the beginning of many teams’ work together.  If parties will agree to trust in a skilled facilitator, they will learn to trust the process and will eventually build trust in one another.  In this way, trust is a byproduct rather than a prerequisite of IBB.
  3. IBB facilitators are all the same.  NOPE! In fact, people who facilitate these types of processes vary tremendously with their methods, philosophy, and skill.  It’s worth spending time talking with facilitators early on to get a strong sense of who they are and how they might mesh with your group’s priorities.  If you’ve had a negative experience with IBB, it might be worth trying again with a new facilitator.  Be clear in your needs an priorities.  Talk with prospective facilitator’s past clients to verify their approach and skill level.  Your due diligence now will give you the best chance of matching your team’s needs with the person to guide you along the way.

Next week I’ll explain what I see as some of the most critical components of a successful interest based approach to contract negotiation.  Stay tuned for more details about my own approach to the work and why it’s so successful!

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