Negotiation Blog

Position and Interest in the Sequester Negotiations

By Thomas Wood

Lawmakers engaged in the sequester negotiations are suffering from an awkward tension between their interests and their positions.

A negotiator's position, as we know, is their stated goal or desire, while their interest is their underlying reason or motivation for their stated goal. For example, a buyer wants a 10% discount (position) to stay under budget and improve profit (interest).

Usually, interests and positions are connected but not identical.  Once a good negotiator knows the other side's interests, he or she can offer new creative options to the other party's original position by addressing its interests in other ways.  A seller who knows a buyer's interest is primarily staying under budget, for example, might offer something else as valuable as the discount a buyer has requested, such as free training on the equipment being sold.

But what do you do when a negotiator's position is in direct opposition to its interests? An article in Politico yesterday reports that Republican governors have publicly signed on to letters bashing Obama and praising House Republicans' efforts in the sequester debate, but meanwhile their offices are urging lawmakers to keep bargaining -- the cuts that would kick in could be devastating to programs in their states.  

In this case, as is often true in politics, the real interest behind the governors' stated positions is to "save face," or to satisfy both the party leadership and their constituents.  Any feasible solution for these politicians would have to take those interests into account rather than responding to the face value of their position.

Negotiating Tip

Research and know the people, not just the organization, issues, history, and objectives.


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