The Orange

Mediators tell a story about two people and one orange. Each person has a firm position: I absolutely deserve the orange. In addition, I absolutely need the orange. Sounds like an impasse.

Negotiation may be difficult if both parties are so completely committed to their positions that they are unable to hold fruitful discussions (pun intended.)

An impartial third-party, such as an arbitrator, judge, or jury could hear the parties, or advocates on their behalf, make persuasive arguments about the merits of each party’s position. Then a decision, usually binding, would be announced. The orange could be awarded wholly to one party or the other, or split; one or both parties will be unhappy with the result.

Enter a mediator, a different type of third-party neutral. During a voluntary, confidential mediation session, the mediator probes the issues and learns about the interests that lie behind the parties’ stated positions.

Despite the insistent position of each party that “I must have the entire orange,” the mediator learns that one party’s interest is in the juice of the entire orange and the other party’s interest is in the zest of the entire orange. Now that the interests are identified, a mutually acceptable (even beneficial) resolution to the conflict becomes possible. An agreement is crafted by the parties with the help of mediator– a resolution out of reach when the parties were stuck in their entrenched positions and not focused on their underlying interests.

Roger Fisher and William Ury tell a variation on the story of the orange in their classic book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Posted in Basics of Mediation and Conflict, Monday, May 21st, 2007

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