The Paradox of Positions

By — on / Dispute Resolution

It’s not difficult for negotiators haggling over seemingly finite resources to become entrenched in their positions. Sometimes the only way to get unstuck is to think appreciatively and creatively about the other side. Rather than trying to determine why a person has taken a particular position, consider what she wants, appreciate it, and try to deliver it.

When you modify and expand resources, you fit the problem to the parties. If that seems easier said than done, consider how the Founding Fathers reached agreement on the structure of the U.S. Congress.

In 1787, following James Madison’s “Virginia Plan,” representatives from states with relatively large populations sought to structure a legislature based on state population. Meanwhile, those from less-populated states wanted equal representation by state, as in William Paterson’s “New Jersey Plan.” Deliberation grew so heated that at one point, according to The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Delaware representative Gunning Bedford, Jr. threatened to walk away: “The small [states] will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith who will take them by the hand and do them justice.”

The solution? Connecticut representative Roger Sherman suggested a bicameral legislature made up of a “house of representatives” based on population and a “senate” based on equal representation by state. Expanding the pie gave both sides what they wanted.

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