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Positions will be presented in every negotiation. However, the motives behind the position is what negotiations are really about. Concentrate all your efforts on the motives.

When analyzing negotiating partners, always distinguish motives and positions. A position is what your negotiating partner communicates to the outside world. In the police world, this corresponds to the hostage taker demanding a getaway car and money – or else the hostage will be killed.

Police officers take the opposite position as they must ensure the safety of both the hostage and the hostage-taker. Looking at these positions, it is obvious that no agreement is possible. However, things look different if we start looking at motives.

It is important to understand the motives of the other party. Your negotiating partner’s motives – regardless of their position – are what they need, or care about. 

The so-called Harvard Concept nicely illustrates the difference between motives and positions with the following example. Two children are fighting over an orange. One of them wants the peel to bake a cake and the other wants the fruit to make juice. Both children insist on their position (“I want the orange!”) so their parents decide each of them will get half an orange. Hence, concentrating only on positions resulted in an unsatisfactory outcome as the underlying motives remained unsatisfied.

In your preparation phase, do not concentrate on positions
neither on yours nor that of your negotiating partner.

Focusing on positions during preparation means you will formulate demands instead of analyzing your own motives. As demands often set limits, the negotiating partner is likely to emphasize their position more strongly (or put down their own limit) when confronted with your limit. Your negotiating partner does not want to lose, so both parties end up engaging in so-called trench warfare over positions, as opposed to revealing their motives. If both parties keep insisting on their positions, the resulting power struggle can put a lot of pressure on their relationship.
Price discussions often follow the same lines. The customer expresses a price limit and the salesperson follows suit by expressing theirs. Somewhere down the line both will eventually agree on a price that is probably half-way in between their initial positions.

If you are uncertain whether you are dealing with a position or a motive, ask yourself if there is more than one way of satisfying the other side’s demand. If there is only one possible way, it is a position. For example, if a customer wants a discount but good value for money is the real motive, the salesperson could either decrease the price or increase the package offered to meet the customer’s demand.