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<xTITLE>Needs And Interests v Emotions</xTITLE>

Needs And Interests v Emotions

by Phyllis Pollack

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       In a negotiation, which is more important: understanding the other person’s perspective (“perspective – taking” or needs and interests) or being emphatic? Interestingly, the former is more crucial to a successful negotiation than the latter.

        In a short article entitled “Inside a deal” in the May 1, 2008 edition of The Economist (in its Science and Technology section), the author discusses a study published in Psychological Science by Adam Galinsky and his colleagues at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois. The study looked at two main approaches used in negotiation to understand the other party: perspective-taking and empathy. As explained in the article, “perspective-taking is the cognitive power to consider the world from someone else’s viewpoint, whereas empathy is the power to connect with them emotionally.” (Id.)

       The study conducted a series of experiments using more than 150 MBA students who were novices in negotiations. The researchers divided them into pairs and had them buy-sell a petrol or gasoline station. They were told to strike a deal but that the deal could not be based solely on price because the lowest amount the seller could accept was higher than the highest amount that the buyer could pay. Thus, they had to be creative in their negotiations. The researchers found that more than 66% of the teams reached a deal.

       The experiment was then re-run but this time the pairs were split into three groups:

       “In the perspective-taking group the buyers were told to try to understand what the petrol station owner was thinking and what his interest and purpose was in selling. The empathy group was told to understand what the seller was feeling and what emotions he might be experiencing. The third group was a control group: the buyers were told simply to concentrate on their own role. Again, it was the pair with a perceptive-taking buyer who were more likely to strike a deal (76%) than the empathizers (54%) followed by the control group (39%).” (Id.)


       This study revealed that the means to gain bargaining power is by understanding the other party’s needs and interests or perspective-taking. To simply connect with the other party emotionally (i.e. empathy) is not enough; a party must also understand where the other party is coming from, or, in essence, understand his/her’s underlying needs and interests. By doing so, and as shown in this study, the parties “can produce a better overall outcome. . . ” (Id.) and thus, have a much better chance at reaching a resolution.

      . . . Just something to think about.    


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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