Know Your Interest, Tame Your Position

There is a Russian folktale concerning the fate of two goats that met each other at the midpoint of a narrow bridge. Each demanded that the other retreat in order to let it pass. Each refused, standing its ground. Well, as things often do in these circumstances, the conflict escalated. Finally a fight broke out and the goats ended up pushing each other into the icy river below. Reportedly, each left the scene complaining of the utter unreasonableness of the other.

An alternative telling of the tale reveals that what each goat really wanted was to taste the wonderful grass on the other side of the bridge. Neither goat really cared whether the other goat crossed the bridge. Fighting about who crosses and who does not did not get either goat what it really wanted. When they realized this they devised a plan whereby they could deftly slide by each other to reach their respective goals.

These stories demonstrate the deep traditional wisdom about negotiating based on our interests (what we really want) rather than our positions (what we say we want). In the first tale the goats took the position of “you go back.” Each probably thought this would allow it to achieve its unstated goal of dining on the other side. Instead, they ended up fighting over something that had little to nothing to do with what they really wanted.

In the second tale, when each realized what they both truly wanted was to eat on the other side, they found a way to make that happen. No bruises, no drenching, no dissatisfaction.

Whether we find ourselves in the midst of a divorce, a dispute with a business partner or an argument over what care to provide our aging parents, we all benefit by knowing what we truly want and making that known to the others involved. I am happy to help you in understanding, framing and advancing your interests. Please give me a call for a consultation.