Negotiation Research on Mediation Techniques: Focus on Interests

Negotiation and mediation research favors a mediator’s focus on client interests

By — on / Mediation


There is a better way to resolve your dispute: by hiring an expert mediator with a focus on interests – the needs, desires, or concerns that underlie each side’s positions, according to negotiation research on mediation techniques.

During the course of negotiation dispute resolution, if someone is asked why a dispute is important, normally the answer will reveal her interests.

A Simple Negotiation Example

As a simple illustration, imagine that two administrative assistants with adjoining desks disagree about whether the window behind them should be open or closed.

One claims that she has the right to decide because she has seniority, while the other insists he should get his way because he conceded to the colleague in a disagreement about lighting.

The office manager asks both to explain their preferences.

The senior employee says that the draft from the open window gives her allergies. Her colleague says that without the fresh air, he gets sleepy.

Suddenly, agreement is easy: the office manager opens a window in the adjoining storeroom, and the two assistants have fresh air with no draft.

Acting as an interests-based mediator, the office manager probed for the interests underlying the assistants’ positions. When the positions of the disputing parties cannot be reconciled, a focus on interests will often lead to a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management in Business Negotiation – Focus on Interests?

But can a focus on interests be applied to complex business disputes?

From experience, we know that a skilled mediator can often resolve conflicts even when she knows little or nothing about the underlying technical issues behind the most complex disputes.


In the first place, a good interests-based mediator will be a fast learner, capable of quickly picking up the technical mediation knowledge necessary to discuss the problem.

More importantly, an interests-based mediator doesn’t need to fully understand the technical aspects of a problem to assess why the dispute is important to each party and which solutions each party might accept.

By beginning with this knowledge and eventually exchanging negotiated agreement proposals, the interests-based mediator can help parties resolve the most complex technical problems.

What mediation techniques have you tried during a negotiation? Share your negotiation mediation stories in the comments.

Related Mediation Article: Deciding on Arbitration versus Mediation? Try Combining Them

How Your Organization Can Benefit from Mediation Techniques

Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations

Claim your FREE copy: Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations

Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Adapted from “Beyond Blame: Choosing A Mediator” by Stephen Goldberg for the January 2006 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.

Originally published in 2013.

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3 Responses to “Negotiation Research on Mediation Techniques: Focus on Interests”

  • Aled D.

    I agree that that one of the features of mediation is the focus away from positions towards interests. We’re trying to understand what matters most to the parties rather than what their perceived solution to a problem is. I was also of the opinion that mediators didn’t necessarily need to be knowledgeable with respect to the substantive issues of the dispute but I’m slowly changing my mind. I think there are disputes and circumstances whereby a mediator with a thorough understanding of the technicalities of the dispute will have an edge over another mediator. He/she may install more confidence in the parties and be more efficient in the process.

  • Garry G.

    Very informative post, thanks for sharing. As mentioned in the comment above, focusing away from positions towards interests is an important feature of mediation/negotiation. Overall, achieving the best result for clients in the most effective manner is key.

  • The moral mediators nor know the more they want to discuss issues is not really an issue thing it’s getting the clients to speak to one another when mediators listen people speak lastly mediations about the process not the product and not the outcome the process is all that we can control conceptually and I do not believe that we need any more skills other than to pay attention and help the parties move things along mediation is the best thing since sliced bread and frozen food and not to mention organic food


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