Once You have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished. Dean Koontz
Soon after my last dog, Sally Mae Ride Astronaut Girl Dog, (my family believes that dogs with longer names seem to have more importance) passed away suddenly from cancer, my daughter and I decided to visit the local animal shelter to find a new dog to join our family. Before we left home I made a list of my priorities for the new dog: It would be smaller than Sally who was a Gordon Setter mix, it would definitely have short hair (dear Sally had left piles of her hair around my house during her life), and it would be female as they are calmer and easier to train (sorry guys, but you know it is true). With my relatively short list in hand, we traveled to Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton. As soon as we got there and started to walk through the aisles of the kennel, my heart was touched by one dog that was so happy looking despite the small conditions allotted to each dog. I asked my daughter how she felt about the dog and she was also immediately drawn to the dog’s bright eyes, expressive face and wagging tail. We asked to meet the dog and right away I knew this was the one. We named the dog Shorty and took him home. So, how did I do with my list of priorities? Shorty was a one year old male Rottweiler Shar Pei mix bread (we call him a Ra-pei) and weighs about 65 pounds. Okay, he has short hair but pretty much failed on all other must-have criteria. But we love him!
So, what does this story have to do with negotiations and mediation? Actually a lot! Very often I see people come to negotiations with a checklist and if they don’t get everything on their list they will not agree to anything. They may have very good reasons for the things on the list and they believe that without attaining each of their goals the negotiations will be a failure and they will leave. In negotiation parlance we call this positional bargaining. This means a person takes a position and will not move from it. They are not open to options that may meet underlying needs or desires if it is not a complete match to their pre-decided list. Had I approached the search for a new dog this way, I would have walked into the shelter and told the clerk at the front desk my list: female, small, calm, short haired. The clerk would have evaluated my list and told me if there were any dogs that met my priorities and if not I would have left. Instead, the clerk invited me to walk through all of the kennels and see if I found the right dog. By exploring options, I found the right dog for my family, now named Einstein Short Tail Entomologist Guy Dog (I won’t explain this name but there is a lot of irony in his name, which is obvious when you meet this bug hunter). I was open to the possibilities outside my initial position and because of this we have a happy, funny boy in our family that has brought us years of joy and security. My interests were met by this happy dog who fits in with our family, even if he does not exactly match my initial position. So, when you enter into negotiations, make your list of goals, prioritize them in importance (short hair was clearly a deal breaker for me) and then be open to the possibility that there may be other ways to achieve happiness that you have not thought of yet.