A Publication of WTVP

One of the toughest times an organization faces is working through the collective bargaining process. Often this process creates extreme conflict, schisms in the organization’s sense of purpose and direction, and hard feelings among those involved in the process. In large part, these outcomes occur because traditional collective bargaining has been based on an adversarial or win/lose structure.

When one side gets what it wants, the other side loses something it wants. The deepest problem with this framework is it totally negates any semblance of people in the organization being on the same side, working for the same mission, and trying to achieve the same vision. The adversarial process easily demolishes any organizational alignment that has been achieved among various employee groups and constituencies.

The adversarial process has been around in organizations for a long time. But it doesn’t exist exclusively in the collective bargaining process. Think about budget meetings. The allocation of dollars and other resources often result in a "my department wins, your department loses" situation. The same is true of creating job schedules, redesigning the organizational chart, and virtually any interaction where different points of view exist. How do you get around this?

Consider interest-based bargaining. This model causes people with opposing views to look much deeper than their stated positions. Instead of simply saying, "We want," interest-based bargaining causes people to discover their real motivation behind what they want. We ask, "Why is that important to you?" or "What difference will it make in how you do your work, how you serve your customers, or how youinteract with others?" We try to discover how the "want" benefits both the individual and the organization’s customers. This deeper assessment represents the real interest of the party.

When we fully understand the interests of all parties, many more alternatives emerge to meet those interests. For example, an employee group’s position may be that they receive an annual stipend for continuing education. Management’s position may be that there will be no increases in the continuing education budget. When we look at these positions, it appears there are no answers that will serve both sides. One wins, the other loses.

When we examine what lies beneath the positions, we can find compatible interests. In the example above, the employees may want a stipend because they have not been trained well on the new computers they’ve received. They find they are falling behind in work and not able to help their customers. Management worries money spent on training is not providing a return on investment. They aren’t opposed to training, but are opposed to irrelevant continuing education. Once the two groups discover each other’s interests they have a better opportunity to find a solution that works for both groups. Together they may decide to create an educational budget driven by changes in technology and evaluated by how well the training creates efficiencies. They may decide to add an in-house trainer or to re-assign someone from the technical staff to provide on-demand help until everyone has learned how to use the computers. Regardless of the alternative chosen, by looking at interests rather than positions, both groups have more choices and a better chance of finding a solution that sits well with everyone.

Every day we create our own positions in the work we do, whether we’re collectively bargaining, discussing operational issues, or determining curfew with our teenage children. In any of these situations, we can create better outcomes by going beyond our positions and asking, "Why is that important to you?" When we discover the real interests we can create real solutions that work well for everyone. IBI