IBR Can Achieve More in Negotiations

By Michael J. Wolf

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APRIL 2005 - Interest-based resolution (IBR) is a tool that trained negotiators use to achieve better results. Variations of IBR have been given names like win-win, best practice, integrative, mutual gain, interest-based, and principled negotiations. Negotiators that properly implement IBR say it helps them achieve agreements that solve problems rather than merely resolve disputes. IBR negotiators tend to establish more mutual respect and trust, and a stronger problem-solving relationship with the parties than do traditional negotiators. The principles, assumptions, stages, and techniques (PAST) model of IBR, originally developed by Jerome T. Barrett while at the Department of Labor, has been one of the most effective implementations of this problem-solving tool.

Principles. IBR negotiating principles were developed from observations of large numbers of negotiations to determine the behaviors and tactics that consistently produced the best results for all parties. Effective IBR negotiators succeed by focusing on interests, the reasons why parties care about a problem, not on positions. Success means achieving durable solutions that satisfy as many mutual and separate interests as possible, as often as possible. IBR negotiators are trained to attack problems, not people. They work with other negotiators to brainstorm options. They evaluate options using objective criteria, not power, to seek consensus solutions.

Assumptions. IBR assumptions flow directly from IBR negotiating principles. The assumptions consist of a set of core values that trained negotiators hold about the potential for using the bargaining process to resolve problems. These assumptions influence attitudes and bargaining behaviors. Unlike most traditional negotiators, IBR negotiators assume that bargaining can enhance relationships. They assume that—in order to maximize what any party can consistently win—all parties must share interest information, win, and help each other win.

Stages. Traditional and IBR bargaining models both begin with thorough preparation, but the stages of negotiation then diverge. IBR negotiators identify issues or problems that the parties want to resolve. They then identify interests for each issue, share interest information with each other to expand common ground, and jointly brainstorm options that might satisfy joint and separate interests. Agreements result from evaluating options against objective criteria and achieving solutions that best meet each party’s legitimate needs.

Techniques. Appropriate IBR bargaining behavior does not proceed as if the more powerful party will win and the weaker party will lose, as is the case in some other negotiating approaches. Rather, IBR negotiators engage in open communication and spend time only on issues that make a difference. They jointly exercise power for mutual gain and try to avoid the use of power to harm any stakeholder’s legitimate interests. They brainstorm options, explore interests, engage in active listening, and search for mutual gain. They solve problems rather than simply resolve issues.

Using IBR

IBR is not appropiate for every negotiation or every negotiator. For example, negotiators that fail to embrace completely the principles and assumptions of IBR will be unable to successfully use the techniques and move through the IBR stages.

Other factors contribute to the successful application of IBR methods, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Prior positive experience with cooperative efforts;
  • Willingness to share bargaining information that traditionally has been kept confidential;
  • Sufficient time to complete the sequence of decision making, training, and implementation of IBR;
  • Willingness to change the way each party uses power during negotiations;
  • Absence of clearly divisive and destabilizing issues; and
  • Constituent support for the process.

Prenegotiation Prerequisites

Parties to a negotiation should become familiar with the IBR process. In addition, negotiators that forego the use of an IBR-trained neutral facilitator must be trained in the proper application of IBR principles, assumptions, stages, and techniques. Trainees learn how to bring an IBR process to a successful conclusion, as well as how to leave behind counterproductive traditional bargaining behaviors. Single-issue IBR training can be completed in one day, whereas negotiators of complex matters should spend at least two days learning and practicing higher-level IBR skills.

Before bargaining begins, negotiators sometimes meet with their trainer or facilitator to explore the risks and opportunities of using the IBR model in the upcoming negotiations. After deciding to use IBR, negotiators should quickly reach agreement on the ground rules, including how to smoothly transition to traditional negotiations in the event that the IBR process does not resolve all issues. IBR negotiators also typically survey the parties, trade and clarify issues and interests, exchange needed information, schedule bargaining dates, and designate a facilitator and recorder for each session.

During each bargaining session, negotiators begin by selecting an issue, then identify interests behind the issue, brainstorm options that satisfy as many interests as possible and establish several criteria against which they measure the options. The issue is resolved when a consensus is reached on the best combination of options. Negotiations are concluded after all issues are resolved.

By following the IBR model, a trained negotiator can help negotiators be more consistently successful at the bargaining table.

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Michael J. Wolf is counsel for dispute resolution technology to the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif. The views experessed in this article are his own.




















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