The collaborative approach is based on the key concept of interest-based negotiation (IBN). Simply put, interest-based negotiations are focused on identifying and, to the extent possible, satisfying the deep, often underlying personal need or interest of the individual as opposed to attempting to satisfy the usually insatiable “position” that a person in conflict has assumed.
For example, imagine a scenario where a divorcing wife assumes the position that the marital home must be sold as a part of the settlement agreement. She is adamant and unyielding in her position. We could assume a whole host of reasons why she demands that the house be sold but good agreements are rarely based on assumptions or position. The best agreements are the result of identifying and, as closely as is possible, meeting the interests of the respective spouses.
In this example, through the collaborative process, we determine that she wants the house sold because there is a home for sale that she would like to buy that’s close to her ailing parents for whom she is the primary caretaker. If the marital home is sold, she will have sufficient cash flow to make the purchase and avoid the 30-mile, each way, daily trip that she must make to check in on them.
Her “position” was “the house must be sold” but her real interest was to be able to afford to move closer to her parents. These are two very different dynamics.
In the problem-solving or option-invention step of the collaborative process, we would have been quickly stifled if we were focused on selling the house, now! Likely options might have included drastically lowering the price and taking a loss or investing more money to update some features. While these steps may have facilitated the sale of the house, the question that likely never would have been answered is, at what cost?
In contrast, imagine the world of possibilities once we learned that the real interest was to be able to afford to move closer to mom and dad and to avoid a lengthy and costly commute. Perhaps the property distribution could be modified to move more liquid assets from the marital estate to the wife so she could make the move. What about exploring third-party rental of the marital home to create sufficient cash flow. Or, maybe the terms of the property settlement could be timed in a way that would facilitate the move now and remove the risk of losing the new home. The pool of possibilities is infinitely larger now that we understand what the wife truly needs.
Unfortunately, interest-based negotiation is not generally practiced in the more traditional, adversarial courtroom focused approach to marital dissolution. In fact, the very existence of an adversarial dynamic means that there is generally a great deal of positioning and posturing taking place.
Consider your situation and explore your “position” versus your “interest(s)”. If you are facing conflict of any sort, this exercise can lead to the optimal outcome for you.