At one of my recent negotiation seminars, a participant shared the following story. A product manufacturer was involved in a dispute with a trade magazine regarding several negative product reviews. The manufacturer was unhappy because it believed the reviews were unjustified. The magazine was unhappy because it believed the manufacturer had then unfairly publicly criticized the magazine. High-dollar lawsuits ensued.
Ultimately, after both parties had spent significant sums on legal fees, they focused on each side’s fundamental interests and realized that money was not the main problem. In fact, their main interests were their reputations and a possible future relationship. As a result, they reached an agreement in which they basically agreed not to talk about each other or the dispute publicly for three years – and no money changed hands at all. Importantly, during this three year “no public comment” period, both parties focused on each other and they were able to repair and renew their professional relationship.
The lesson here is it’s critical to uncover the fundamental interests underlying the parties’ positions. These are the parties’ needs, desires, concerns and fears. They are why the parties want something as opposed to whatthey want. Uncovering the parties’ fundamental interests will help you define success and find a true “win-win” solution. Here, both parties’ shared an interest in ending their public cat-fight and renewing their professional relationship. They were able to creatively reach a deal which enabled them to do so without permanently damaging their relationship and incurring the costs of going to trial and the bad publicity which might result.