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Focus on Interests, Not Positions

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By Patricia Barrett, CFP CDFA Mediator


Ideally, each party has come into the mediations with at least two ideas for solutions that would resolve their interests. Additionally, all parties should have open minds at this juncture in order to allow for free exchange of ideas.  You may wish to propose two different ideas in one statement in order to avoid appearing committed to either one. 


Listen with respect to any ideas; however, do not allow attacks on the other party.  Express appreciation for input, even if the idea will not advance the mediations.  Remind all parties to attack the problem and not each other.    There is no need to give in to a solution that goes against principles; thus, feel free to stand up for yours. You should be both firm in your convictions and open to legitimate suggestions for compromise.


The most effective method of decision-making involves numerous options.  In order to develop options and encourage participation among all negotiators, avoid the following common mistakes:


1)      Do not assume that there is only one correct answer.

2)      Do not reach a quick judgment.

3)      Do not be quick to criticize other suggestions.  Allow them to be written down and revisited.

4)      Do not assume that the other side’s problem is not shared.


To conclude the brainstorming, place stars next to the most promising ideas.  Now is the time to allow criticism in order to further narrow the choices.  When one idea seems to be coming out on top, open the discussion for ways to improve on it.  It’s a good idea to begin criticism with a positive statement about something you like and proceed to explain your objection.  Like:  “it may be better if….”.  Distinguish between interests and actually taking a position.   It helps to end with a question, like “what if we…?, How about doing this…? To further stimulate brainstorming.


Agree on another time to meet and to decide on a solution.


According to the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher, there are four basic steps in inventing options:


Step 1:  Problem:  What’s wrong?  What are current symptoms?  What are disliked facts contrasted with a preferred situation?

Step 2:  Analysis:  Diagnose the problem:  Sort symptoms into categories.  Suggest causes. Observe what is lacking. Note barriers to resolving the problem.

Step 3:  Approaches:  What are possible strategies or prescriptions?  What are some theoretical cures?  Generate broad ideas about what might be done.

Step 4:  Action ideas:  What might be done?  What specific steps might be taken to deal with the problem?


Suggest how a certain option can be fractionalized, dividing the issues into separate parts to accommodate both sides. Alternatively, state how a suggested solution can be expanded to include more issues that would help to satisfy the other side.


Creating a Win-Win Situation:

Sometimes a creative solution can create a win-win situation by satisfying the interests of both sides, making sure that the solution is future-oriented.  This is where considering their shared interests can be useful.  For instance, both individuals want the children’s happiness to be the primary concern.  A negotiator usually strives to find a solution that will make both parties content. This avoids problems in the future in implementing the solution.


A negotiator should point out the consequences of failing to reach an agreement and of the mutual benefit of a shared solution to problems.  The consequences have to be worded carefully, possibly attributing them to an objective standard, to avoid creating defensiveness and anger.  Try to formulate a solution as meeting shared goals and state it in a manner that poses a joint gain.

Back to main topic: Divorce Mediation
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Patricia Barrett CFP CDFA
Phone:  832-858-0099
Address: 10777 Westheimer, Suite 1100, Houston, TX   77042 email: