Objectives, Benefits and Values: A Way Out of Restrictive Negotiations

One way to escape the clutches of a restrictive negotiations process is to move from the usual debate, clash and discussion of position papers and “non-negotiables” to an exploration of expected benefits and values – Why do you want this? What benefit or value do you think you will derive or acquire if we do exactly what you want? Perhaps there are other ways and means to achieve the same results?

Edward De Bono, creator of Lateral Thinking, differentiates between objective, benefits and values.

 An objective is something that you set out to achieve. It is something towards which you aim your efforts. An objective can be defined. You take steps towards your objective. You make action decisions depending on whether the action is going to advance you to your objective.

A benefit, on the other hand, is something that flows from the achieved objective, A benefit is something that affects you in a beneficial way. The benefit is a benefit because it delivers a value. The reason you aim for an objective is that you believe it will deliver the benefits once you get there.

A value is what is delivered by a benefit. A value is a way of looking at something. One man isolated in a hut on a deserted island may value the peace and the natural environment. Another man might hate boredom. One may welcome the organized routine and predictability of army life. Another man may find it oppressive and restricting. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Embedded in the stated objectives and position papers are the not-so-obvious benefits and values. The parties need to articulate and explain them in the open so that there can be no misunderstanding. To do this, the parties need to shift their minds from the paradigm of friend or enemy, aggressor or aggrieved or oppressor or oppressed and try to look at each other as a persons of good will, who seek the nothing but the good for themselves and their people, have clear interests and wanting certain benefits. This kind of mind shift has begun with the high level meeting of President Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad and now needs to be continued at the level of the negotiating panels and even on the ground.

Of course, every party to a conflict would insist that the only way for them to secure the benefits and values they desire is through the achievement of their stated objectives as outlined in their position paper, otherwise they would appear inconsistent. Is it really the only way? Well, they  could be right in the end that it is the only way but until a real and honest exploration of alternatives and possibilities is made, we will never find out.

While conflicting parties may have differing views of the situation or problem, want different things and have different values, it does not mean that they cannot find a solution that benefits all or at least while it benefits one does not harm the other.  The attainment of a certain objective by one need not be to the detriment of the other. It is not always a zero-sum game where the benefit of one leads to the disbenefit of another. If we design a solution that takes into account all the benefits and values that the parties desire while at the same time making sure that no party is harmed, then that solution might work. This the Plan Red or Magenta that I was talking about.

The suggestion then is to shift focus of the peace talks from a discussion of position papers to an exploration of benefits, values and alternatives, possibilities and choices to attain those benefits and values. Who knows? A thousand flowers of options, alternatives and new ideas may bloom.

It is expected of course for a party to the conflict to be wary and suspicious of a suggestion to explore benefits and values first before looking at position papers as it might be another ploy by the other to weaken one’s position or misdirect the Talks. It may also send a wrong signal to combatants on the ground that their negotiators are not anymore steadfast or worse, have abandoned the cause. These are real implications and dangers which the parties need to address.

Can the parties do this – exploration of benefits and values – by themselves, without the aid of a facilitator. I think they cannot. The parties need a facilitator for this. The role however of the facilitator must now be an active one. The parties cannot limit the facilitator’s role to providing a communication line to each other. The facilitator now must think together with the parties. He must challenge and expand the thinking of the parties.

In the context of the GPH-MILF talks, the International Contact Group composed of UK, Japan, Turkey, The Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah and Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue can also host similar exploration conversations on benefits and values on the ground and among non-negotiators but key influencers and stakeholders and feed the results to the so-called Track 1 negotiations. xxx

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Author: Bong Montesa

I teach children how to think. I am engage in the work of ending armed conflicts and bring about a just, inclusive and sustainable peace in the Philippines and in the world.

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