Interest-Based Bargaining: How To Get What You Want (and Give What You Don’t)

During traditional negotiations, most people default to what’s known as “position-based” bargaining. Prior to meeting or early during the discussions, each side stakes a position — a portfolio of demands — and then pursues that position. The negotiations then become all about obtaining these goals and seeking to deny the other party success. It’s competitive and adversarial.

An arguably more compassionate approach is “interest based” bargaining. First, you identify what is important to each person, and then you strive to meet those interests. Let’s say your soon-to-be ex wants the house badly. In a position-based framework, you may get nowhere fast. Even if you don’t care about the house, your attorney may press you to pretend to want it in order to put pressure on the person that does. If you really do want the house, this kind of bargaining gets even trickier. You probably can’t divide it into two parts and arrange for each party to live in half of it, so you would have to work toward compromise with a common result that everyone is unhappy.

In an interest-based framework, more interesting things can happen. Maybe there are different ways the underlying concerns can be met. For instance, if your spouse wants the home because he or she needs to commute easily to work, you can brainstorm alternative options (e.g. telecommuting, using a car service, finding another home or apartment near work, etc.)

The point is that interest-based discussions tend to lead to more creativity and flexibility. Both parties have motivation to try to solve each other’s problems because they realize that is the best way to get what they both need. Rather than losing sleep over battles you don’t really have to win, you focus your attention on those things you do really want to walk away with, and stay flexible to the assets you don’t really need.


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