The Negotiator Magazine

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ICON can be explained best if laid out in a diamond with Interests in the west corner, Criteria in east corner, Options in the north corner, and No-agreement alternatives in the south corner. Each point of ICON relates directly to its adjacent points. For instance, individuals or parties about to engage in a negotiation have specific needs or Interests they want met and these may underlie the positions they come to the table demanding (Fisher, Ury & Patton; Lax & Sebenius,). The parties’ Interests will help them generate possible solutions, or Options, to resolving the dispute. Their Options can be further refined through the filter of neutral Criteria -- objective standards or benchmarks. Their Interests may also help them to develop or strengthen No-agreement alternatives, or the steps each party will take if they do not reach agreement. A party can refer back to its Interests to assess the value and practicality of its No-agreement alternatives. Among its No-agreement alternatives a party will usually identify its best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), which serves both to alert and prepare each side for the consequences if no agreement is reached.

While many experienced negotiation practitioners begin with Interests when thinking through a negotiation process, the four facets of ICON work in any order. For instance, a set of Criteria can help spark ideas for Options. Alternatively, a list of No-agreement alternatives may help a side clarify its Interests.

What Parties Desire in Negotiation and Methods to Satisfy Those Desires

Getting to YES stressed the importance of recognizing what you want, of taking an honest inventory of your underlying Interests when you engage in any negotiation. Arguably, these are your subjective Interests, tailor-made to your side given your situation, expectations, and experiences. Likewise, each side must anticipate and analyze the other side’s Interests in order to work out realistic Options.

Balanced against the Interests of each party are objective Criteria with which one can evaluate the fairness of demands. Examples of Criteria include market rates, past pay increases and federal regulations. For instance, an agricultural workers’ union negotiating with farmers might rely on federal court decisions and EPA rules to argue for better safety equipment for its workers. Criteria are neutral precedents that both sides to a negotiation can use to develop and benchmark Options. In negotiations we want to see our objective needs met, to know that the agreement is fair and to be able to explain to stakeholders the key factors upon which decisions were based.

If Interests and Criteria help articulate what we desire, Options and No-agreement alternatives are proposals for concrete ways of getting it. We sometimes refer to Options that meet some or all of each party’s Interests as the on the table solutions, that is those Options we believe have some chance of meeting both parties’ Interests. When both sides contribute to putting Options on the table, this can lead to greater choice and creativity in coming to an agreement.

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