Going Below the Line
In today’s episode, I will present a mediation concept that I believe you will find very helpful. The concept is called “going below the line.”
Imagine you have a sheet of paper in front of you and you draw a thick line through the center. Above the line write the word “positions”; below the line write the word “interests.” This image is intended to remind you to move from party positions — which are above the line — to party interests — which are below the line. As a mediator you keep in mind that you will need to travel below the line.
Let’s take a closer look at the concept. Most disputants are rigid. They hold fast to a stance or a position. They say, “This is where I stand.” And, typically, this means there is only one solution to the conflict. One path to resolution — we must meet the demands attached to that position. When each party holds a position there is little chance the conflict will be resolved.
A major change came about in our view of negotiation when Roger Fischer and William Ury from the Harvard Project on Negotiation published their seminal work, Getting to Yes. They developed interest-based or principle-based negotiation. The key insight was that impasse would prevail unless parties went “below the line” to address their underlying interests.
When mediators traveled “below the line” they uncovered WHY parties were holding their particular positions. Mediators unearthed the actual interests and the actual motivations behind the various positions. Essentially, they asked, “What interest are you trying to satisfy by holding that position?
After mediators shift the attention to interests, the parties become more flexible. There is more than one way to satisfy an interest. So more options are placed on the table. Negotiation becomes a creative endeavor.
In my workshops, I use the following example to explain this dynamic:
Two daughters have one orange between them. They fight over that one orange.
Mother steps in to manage the conflict. She takes a knife and cuts the orange in half — and each girl gets a half.
That is what most people think mediation is about — compromise. Cut the orange in half. Cut the pie in half. But that is not usually the optimum solution.
If mother had gone “below the line” — if mother had mined her daughters’ interests — her solution would have been different. She would have discovered one daughter wanted the orange peel for a baking project. The other daughter wanted the pulp to make juice. If mom had gone below the line she would have supplied both daughters with one hundred percent of their needs — instead of each getting half of their needs met. All of the peel could have gone to one daughter. All of the pulp would have gone to the other daughter. They both would have received the greatest benefit possible.
This illustrates that creative outcomes are possible. One must simply go below the line to really understand what each party wants. So keep this concept in mind — always seek to go below the line. This applies to your own interests. It applies to the interests of the other party. And it applies to the interests of the parties for whom you minister.
When you find yourself managing a conflict, slow up and ask the question — what do people really want? What interest are they really trying to satisfy? Do I really know what they want?
This goes for your own interests as well. If you find your self becoming rigid and demanding, step back and ask yourself, “What are my real interests here? What will really bring satisfaction?”
I hope this “below the line” mediation concept will prove valuable in your hands. Give it a try.
Until next time, may God bless you and bring you peace.