The Negotiator Magazine

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In many instances, the most influential factors determining the outcome of a negotiation are the partiesí alternatives to a negotiated agreement. Parties are often significantly motivated to find common ground -- or not to find common ground -- by their knowledge of what will happen if no agreement is reached. A No-agreement alternative is an important baseline for both parties to use to evaluate the merits of various Options. Although No-agreement alternatives can be disappointing, they provide a crucial emergency stop to spiraling losses that can occur in negotiations. Armed with No-agreement alternatives, each side has well-defined indicators for when they should walk away from the table and a clear idea of what will happen if they do.

ICON is a catalyst for principled negotiations. It helps negotiators create and claim value by focusing on the substantive outcome of negotiations (Lax and Sebenius). While ICON provides the building blocks for collaboration, one still has to design and conduct a collaborative face-to-face negotiation. Deftly probing for Interests, using Criteria to understand and persuade rather than bully, brainstorming for Options without the positional habit of focusing on only one option, and identifying No-agreement alternatives wisely, are all skills that require relationship building and good communication. Once that communication is established, ICON is meant to be used as a tool for decision-making -- like conducting a cost-benefit analysis -- for tackling fundamental choices that arise.

ICON in Action

ICONís simplicity and logic are best demonstrated in action. In our mediation work we first ask parties to apply the four elements of ICON within their partisan teams, and then jointly with the other side as the process advances. The success of this approach was particularly well demonstrated during a collective bargaining negotiation we facilitated in 1998 between the San Diego School District and the San Diego Teachers Association (Lum and Christie).

For each major issue the parties separately analyzed their Interests, Criteria and Options. For the negotiation as a whole and on selected issues, the parties also evaluated their own and the other partyís No-agreement alternatives. Mapping out ICON and then sharing the information in a principled fashion helped the parties move through the issues quickly. They were able to identify creative options that met their interests, and a teachersí strike or a return to school without a contract was averted.

Among the most problematic issues facing the San Diego School District (aside from typical disputes over salaries and benefits) were inadequately prepared students, limited resources and poor teacher support in its inner city schools. The majority of teachers who found an opportunity to transfer out of the inner city did so, leaving these schools with a constant influx of inexperienced teachers. Staff at some of the inner city schools had an average of three years teaching experience or less. We asked both sides to the negotiation to work through ICON as part of the mediation process. The following is a summary of the their findings.

What were the Teachersí subjective Interests? The teachers wanted as much control over their own work lives as possible, and for their tenure and experience to be valued by the San Diego School District. They wanted improvement in the inner city schools and felt that providing new teachers with mentoring and coaching would help achieve this aim.

What were the Districtís subjective Interests? The District administration wanted as much staffing discretion as possible to make the most appropriate matches between teachers and students. It also desired a balance of newer teachers and experienced teachers at each school site.

What were other parties' interests? Students and parents wanted high quality education. The business community, which contributed financial support, wanted quantifiable evidence that the schools as a whole were improving. Organized parent groups were specifically concerned with the troubled schools in the inner city.

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