Close Connections: No more war


By Nancy Norman

A new year. New hope for more peace in the world and in relationships.

There’s a way to help resolve conflicts called “interest-based bargaining.” Not the sexiest title around, but it’s outlined in Fisher and Ury’s book, “Getting To Yes,” which comes from the Harvard Negotiation Project 30 years ago.

Let’s face it. We tend to believe avoiding disagreements is a good thing. That would be great if they weren’t inevitable. Since the civil rights’ and women’s movements, we know that both people in close relationships are decision-makers. And naturally, when each has a different view of what needs to happen, that can lead to conflicts and possibly very bad feelings.

Fisher and Ury’s “win-win” method allows people to come to happier, more lasting resolutions to conflicts—without giving in. But it takes more time, more effort and patience, and an abiding commitment to both people being happy with the solution. Both being heard and respected. Here’s the steps:

  1. Identify and clarify what each person wants (positions).
  1. Discover the needs (interests) behind each position.
  1. Look for solutions that satisfy as many of both people’s interests as possible.

Let’s say Steve and Jane want to go out together for dinner. Steve wants to go to his favorite bar. Jane wants to go to her favorite restaurant. Either could bully, blackmail, guilt or cajole the other to “win” or get their way. That usually means the “loser” feels intimidated, manipulated or unimportant because his or her needs are ignored or minimized or squashed. Even if he or she goes along, those bad feelings can mount up over time.

In the interest-based bargaining model, instead of fighting to see who gets his or her own way, Steve and Jane first listen and clarify the other’s desire (positions) and what’s important about eating in a particular place (interests). Then they look inside themselves to learn what needs their own choice satisfies. Even a seemingly off-handed preference has needs behind it.

Steve wants to eat at the pub because he feels at home, accepted—friendly staff, warm and inviting atmosphere, casual dress. It makes him feel valued by others. Jane feels romantic because her restaurant has tables for two where couples can talk and staff pampers them. It makes her feel their relationship is honored by others.

So the couple takes those interests (feeling significant and relationship honored) and together comes up with as many places as possible that satisfy both their needs–letting go of getting their own way. They want to be together, and each suggestion is measured against the interests of both.

This process says, “I love and respect you and care enough to listen to what you want and why.” The more this message is conveyed, the more willing people are to work at solving conflicts. We can begin to see there’s a way both people “win.”

Nothing about this model is quick. It has to be learned and practiced, and it’s nearly always challenging. But nothing about fighting and bad feelings is desirable either. As John Lennon’s song says, “War is over, if you want it….”

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at





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