1. State the problem
We want to be clear about the presenting issue or problem space that we are being asked to facilitate through to resolution. As well as having a clear statement of the problem, we need to identify the main participants and their stated positions. We also need to know about indirect participants – stakeholders who have significant influence over the main participants – and have their positions described too.
2. Chunk up to higher interests
A high proportion of negotiations are not fully resolved – they result in a compromise where none of the parties achieve what they really want. This phase of the process reduces the likelihood of a future compromise as it enables us to identify all of the key elements that will have to be in place for any agreement to be both acceptable and sustainable by all parties.
The higher interests of the participants are the main drivers and deeper needs that determine their real behaviour: what they actually do rather than what they say they will do. Some of these, the ones that are politically acceptable, will be readily disclosed by the participants themselves and the people around them.
But to generate movement that will fit the total system, we also need to find out about the drivers that are not disclosed – either because people are reluctant to confess to them (e.g. greed, the need for power and control, pride), or because they are so deep that they are not even aware of them. Identifying and allowing for these undisclosed drivers is one of the major contributions that a code-breaker brings to the table.
The whole subject of values, the deeper drivers that determine our behaviours, is covered extensively elsewhere in this book. These drivers can be deduced by specifying what must be true for a person for them to talk and, more importantly behave, in the way that they do. Here are some of the questions that will help identify higher interests:
- What does holding on to this position do for the person (positively)?
- What do they get out of this belief?
- What’s important to them about this?
- What would achieving this do for them?
- What do they get (positively) out of not achieving this?
The mechanism underpinning these questions is that every behaviour, no matter how strange it appears, has some sort of logic inside the brain of the person demonstrating the behaviour. Whether that logic feels strange or wrong to us doesn’t matter – the important thing is that it is always driven by the higher interests (either disclosed and undisclosed) of that person. We can deduce what their interests must be by working backwards from the behaviours.
Once we have asked these questions externally we can improve the accuracy and richness of the answers by stepping into the situation from their perspective – called second position – and asking the same questions again. The last question has a huge potential impact on the problem but is frequently missed because it isn’t always apparent in the problem definition.
The questions are all simple, but getting thorough and reliable answers is essential because these higher level interests represent the solution space. The more accurate we are in defining the solution space, the more confident we can be that a new goal that delivers those requirements will work within the system. Even if the answers to the questions are difficult to pin down – and especially if they sometimes appear crazy to us – we need to be persistent and go through several iterations if necessary to a usable definition of the solution space.
3. Chunk down to barriers
The higher interests will normally have been expressed in terms of large open-ended concepts (for example: safety, pride, avarice, popularity, power, integrity). We can now gain a huge amount of useful information by chunking down to the detail of how these are manifested as barriers to the negotiation. These barriers can either be tangible (e.g. if the other party goes below a certain price they will be in serious financial trouble) or intangible (e.g. if the other party goes below a certain price they will feel that they have lost face). Putting effort into collecting as much data about these barriers to agreement has a number of significant benefits:
- They provide further clues about higher level interests that have not yet been discovered. Put another way: if a barrier emerges that can’t be explained by what is already known about higher level interests, then more work needs to be done to complete the latter.
- They clarify more precisely what the higher level interests mean in this context. For example, does national security mean maintaining troops in certain locations, or does it mean a strong assurance that aggressors are genuinely motivated to back down?
- The way that barriers are expressed by participants (tone of voice, facial expressions etc.) provides further information about the relative importance of the higher interests that are behind them.
- Other external influences, beyond those identified in the original problem statement, may be revealed. Examples might be legal or financial requirements, or restrictions imposed by other stakeholders.
- The search for a potential leverage point starts with the barriers (see below), so the more data that is available the better. Once the leverage point is discovered, testing it against all the barriers raises confidence that it is valid.
- Previously the participants would have considered the list of barriers as overwhelming evidence that the problem is intractable. The code-breaker now has the opportunity to reframe the list as an essential resource for establishing a leverage point towards resolution.
Typical questions for establishing potential obstacles, from anyone’s perspective, are:
- What stops us resolving this?
- What are the barriers that stop us moving on?
- Why can’t each person involved just get on with it?
4. Identify the leverage point
Once the list of barriers have been assembled we need to identify the leverage point: the one thing which, if it were resolved, would negate the impact of all the barriers.
Key questions include:
- What is common to all these problems?
- What drives all these barriers?
- What one thing would address all these obstacles?
- What has to be true for all these issues to be present right now?
- Can they be dealt with directly, or is there something (hidden) at a higher logical level that drives them?
This stage may seem like being asked to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but experience suggests that if the process has been followed with sufficient diligence, the leverage point will become apparent – most probably to the code-breaker (who has in-depth knowledge of all the higher interests), but possibly also to participants. We have seen the full spectrum, from at one end the code-breaker explicitly naming the leverage point, through to the code-breaker providing guidance on the process (although in the latter case, the participants would need to have a strong level of awareness of all the higher interests too).