Consider the following incident and the two scenes that follow. The situation is similar but the interaction between key players is significantly different.
Asma’s final examinations are about to commence. She is in the eighth grade and her studies are tough. To allow her time to study and avoid late nights, her mother has already politely declined invitations to two family weddings. A couple of days before Asma’s exams begin, her dear friend (who studies in another school) comes to visit. She has brought the invitation card to her elder sister’s wedding, scheduled to be held on a Thursday. Since the next day is her exam, Asma knows she would not be allowed to go. Still, upon her friend’s insistence, she decides to talk to her mother.
Asma’s mother refuses to budge. She categorically tells Asma that no parties or weddings will be attended in the middle of the exam week. Asma gets very upset. She has been studying hard and feels she deserves a break of an hour or so. Her mother tells her that she would be spending time getting dressed and then commuting: total of two to three hours. Then, she would want to stay till dinner and, hence, would return late night. She’d be too sleepy the next day. Asma says she will go, no matter what. Her mother says, no, no matter what. Both Asma and her mother get into a terrible argument that results in tears and silent treatment.
Asma thinks a little bit before approaching her mother. She notes the time and the venue of the wedding. She mentally calculates the time she would be spending getting dressed and commuting to the wedding. With all this preparation, she talks to her mother and requests her to allow her an hour to attend the wedding. She assures her mother that she will do the preparation for next day’s exam well before time, will spend maximum fifteen minutes on getting ready and will not stay for the dinner at the wedding. She will simply go, meet everyone and then return. The break will be good for her and she would probably feel more refreshed for the paper next day. Asma’s mother thinks it over and then allows her to attend the wedding, if all conditions are met as put forward by Asma.
Note the difference in the two scenes. In the first, Asma and her mother engaged in positional bargaining: each has a ‘position’. They both argued tooth and nail to win that position. Eventually, they made up but it was not a happy arrangement for both. In the second, Asma and her mother engaged in interest bargaining. Asma knew her mother was not against attending the wedding per se. Her ‘interest’ was to ensure Asma’s exam did not get affected. Once Asma had identified all possible scenarios that her mother could oppose, she managed to convince her and attend the wedding without disobeying her.
In our daily interactions with our parents, spouses, children, neighbours or in-laws, we do encounter situations, in which we do not agree with another person. This is natural; what matters is how we deal with these differences to reach a win-win solution. There are basically two approaches towards resolving conflicts. Positional bargaining may result in a compromise, but one or both parties are usually not happy with the outcome. On the other hand, interest bargaining leads directly to a win-win solution, as it takes into account diverse interests and aims, rather than one’s position over a specific matter.
Despite interest bargaining being more beneficial, position bargaining is more popular. This is mainly because:
- It requires no or very little planning and preparation. Mostly, it depends upon a person’s position at the time of discussion or argument.
- It is very convenient, because it does not require planning or thinking through.
- It works most of the time and gives us results, even if not always wise.
- It can be applied to any situation.
On the other hand, interest bargaining requires some serious work. It needs proper planning and thinking through to reach creative solutions.
For example, 18-year-old Saad finds it difficult to wake up for Fajr and almost always gets into an argument with his mother about it. Position bargaining would mean that both Saad and his mother would come to a compromise: if Saad gets up for Salah for three days, he can miss it for three days, and his mother would not argue. However, this cannot be done, because the Salah is Fard (obligatory). No matter how tired Saad is, there is no excuse for missing the prayer. Once this premise is established in their minds, they can come up with solutions on how Saad can wake up for Fajr. This may include Saad educating himself on the importance of praying Salah on time, avoiding late nights, keeping multiple alarms and so on. It is important to note that the mother is not arguing to defend her position; she is defending a vital principle.
Similar is the case, when problems take root between in-laws. A frail, elderly mother-in-law, who is widowed and mostly bed-ridden, lives with her only son and his wife. The wife wants a separate portion in the house, because it is very taxing for her to look after a sick individual the whole day. She argues with her husband to hire a maid for the mother-in-law and move upstairs. Her husband can reach this compromise through position bargaining, and do as his wife suggests. However, he outlines the interests of them both:
- He wants his wife to be happy and content, and his mother to be taken care of.
- The wife wants some relief from the daily responsibilities of caring for the mother-in-law.
- The mother-in-law needs the company of her son’s family.
The son decides to hire a reliable maid, who can take care of his mother’s medical needs, so his wife can get some relief. The wife then agrees that she will not move to a separate portion, and, instead, will supervise the maid and give her mother-in-law company. This way, all parties are happy.
What are the attitudes of those, who engage in interest bargaining?
- The interests of all parties in an argument are addressed for an agreement to be reached.
- The focus remains on interests, not positions.
- Parties search for objective or fair standards that all can agree on.
- All parties believe that there are multiple satisfactory solutions.
- Parties are cooperative problem-solvers, rather than opponents.
- People and issues remain separate. People are respected, while interests are bargained on.
- All parties are willing to search for win-win solutions.
How can you initiate and work on interest bargaining? Here is a quick guide:
- Identify your interests/needs in a particular situation. Be specific about what your needs are and how important they are to you.
- When negotiating or having a discussion, inform all parties about your respective interests. Make sure your needs are understood.
- Now, specify the problem. Word it in a way that it appears solvable by a win-win solution.
- Identify general criteria that must be present in an acceptable solution.
- Work toward an agreement.
- Identify areas of agreement, restate them and, if needed, write them down.
It is important to implement the following, during this process:
- Educate and be educated about interests of all parties.
- Assure that all interests will be respected and viewed as legitimate.
- Show an interest in others’ needs.
- Do not exploit another negotiator’s weakness. Demonstrate trust.
- Put yourself in a ‘one down position’ to other on issues where you risk a small, but symbolic loss.
- Start with a problem solving, rather than competitive approach.
- Provide benefits above and beyond the call of duty.
- Listen and convey to other negotiators that they have been heard and understood.
- Listen and restate content to demonstrate understanding.
- Listen and restate feelings to demonstrate acceptance (not necessarily agreement) and understanding of intensity.
All too often, we are so caught up in one-upping others and winning the argument that we forget the following authentic Hadeeth: “The most despicable amongst people in the sight of Allah is the ruthless argumentative (person).” (Muslim)
“I guarantee a house in Jannah for one, who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right.” (Abu Dawood)
At the end of the day, the purpose of any argument or conflict should be to reach a win-win solution. A well-known saying is: “Lose the argument, not the person.”