Sunday, April 8, 2012

Focus on interests, not positions

Wise solutions reconcile interests, not positions

Typical of many shelter reform negotiations the shelter problems appear to be a conflict of positions, and since the goal is to agree on a position, the natural progression is to talk, think and discuss the differences in positions rather than focusing on which interests or goals the opposing views may share. This type of negotiation process often simply reaches an impasse with neither side willing to compromise on positions right or wrong.

In reality the differences between positions and interest are crucial because interest typically define the problem. The basic problem lies not in the conflicting positions, but the conflict between each sides needs, desires, concerns and fears. Yes, fear of the unknown plays into every conflict resolution as well.

Looking towards shared interests instead of fixating on differing positions is what makes it possible to develop a solution that both sides can buy into. Reconciling interests rather than positions works for two reasons. First, when you look behind opposed positions for motivating interests, you can often find an alternative position which meets not only your primary interest but your oppositions as well.

Reconciling interests rather than compromising between positions also works because behind opposed positions lie many more interests than conflicting ones.

Behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests, as well as conflicting ones. We tend to assume that because the other side's positions are opposed to ours, their interests must also be opposed. If we have an interest in defending ourselves, then they must want to attack us. In many negotiations, however, a close examination of the underlying interests will reveal the existence of the many more interests that are shared or compatible than the ones that are opposed.

Gwinnett's political leadership has an opportunity to reach out to our community and find a solution that lies in the areas of shared interests. Those shared interest include delivering an animal services unit that not only works diligently towards saving all of Gwinnett's adoptable pets but in seeking ways to co-exist peacefully with those animals in our community who are not readily adoptable as in the case of feral cats.

We have an opportunity to revitalize our animal services unit by bringing in a professional shelter manager capable of thinking outside the box who can bridge the gap between opposing positions despite our shared goals. It is these shared interests which ultimately brings a community closer together. Agreement is often made possible precisely because interests differ.

Shared interests and differing but complimentary interests can serve as the building blocks for a wise and fruitful agreement.

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