Procedures for Interest-Based Bargaining

Parties using interest-based bargaining should use the procedures desribed below to ensure the effectiveness of the process.

Initial Preparations

The first step for the parties to make after they have agreed to use interest-based bargaining is to decide on a facilitator/mediator. They also need to agree up front on how they will handle impasse. They need to get a meeting place large enough to fit everyone and set a meeting schedule, preferably four or five consecutive days. They should also designate someone to keep a record of the meetings. Last but certainly not least in importance, they must prepare statistical data for the meetings. Accurate data is indispensable to the process. Representatives from both parties should meet together to prepare the data they anticipate will be needed at the meetings. All relevant data must be shared and validated by both parties before the meetings to avoid wasting valuable negotiations time.

Preparing with Constituents

Each party must prepare extensively with its members, because most people are accustomed to the traditional process. Changing to IBB may cause the members of the union, in particuar, to become wary of their leaders, believing that non-adversarial negotiations is the equivalent of selling out. It is important that the leaders of both parties educate their constituents to the change, and what may be expected.

Most importantly, in actual preparation for IBB, the leaders must work closely to help the members identify and define the issues. They should be discouraged from preparing a "wish list," as in traditional negotiations. Instead they should think in terms of problems that need to be solved, rather than proposals (solutions) to be made. Those problems should be identified from situations that have arisen since the last negotiations, and should be stated in terms that will define the problems clearly.

Opening Statements

An opening statement can help set the tone for the negotiations. The statements should contain their expectations for the meetings, why they have agreed to participate in the process, and their expectations regarding their relationships.

List of Standards

The first step in the process is for the parties to develop a list of standards together that they will use to evaluate each of the proposed solutions, to eliminate the unacceptable, and to find the acceptable solution. Developing the list helps the parties get accustomed to brainstorming and it helps them understand each other's perspective. Also, consolidating each other's standards into the final list is good training for attaining consensus.

Some groups have used the following standards:

  • meets employee expectations
  • meets employer expectations
  • is equitable
  • improves labor/management relations
  • is fair
  • is affordable
  • is reasonable
  • meets legal requirements
  • is acceptable to our constituents

This list of standards should be placed on newsprint and kept on the wall for reference throughout the meetings. The proposed solution that satisfies most of the standards should be the acceptable solution. How that measurement may be made is different for each group. Some may use a numerical rating system, others may use consensus. Sometimes the solution is obvious.

Identifying the Issues

At the first IBB meeting the parties present their issues, one at a time, alternating between union and management. There is no debate over the validity of the items; they are accepted as presented.

The issues are listed on newsprint, numbered, and put on the wall for easy reference. One item at a time is selected from the list to be resolved. Usually, it is important that a non-controversial one is selected first, to help the parties get familiar with the process. That issue is taken through the IBB process before another is brought forth for solution. The selected issue is phrased in question form. Properly expressing the question will make solving it easier. The parties should be patient, and not rush at this point. They should define the issue clearly to get to the essence of the problem.

As the process continues, each item is discussed and defined, and as interests are offered, the need for resolution of any item will surface. The proposing party, however, may remove any item from discussion at any time.

Identifying the Interests on Each Issue

Interests are what each party obtains from solving the problem, their concerns in doing it, and the parameters that they set for the solution. They share their interests with each other by listing them on the flip chart. The parties will be better able to find solutions after they have made their interests known to each other. They will be able to find solutions more successfully, because they have shared their needs and their limitations.

Developing a List of Options for Each Issue

Using brainstorming techniques, the parties offer possible solutions to each issue. The facilitator goes around the room permitting each person to offer ideas until they run out of suggestions. All suggestions are accepted and listed without comment.

Identifying the Acceptable Option

Each option is measured against the list of standards. The measuring method varies with each group. The option that meets most of the standards may be the acceptable solution. Sometimes the parties may find the acceptable solution intuitively, because they understand each other after having shared their standards, interests and concerns earlier. The parties should be free to adopt any method that works for them.

Accepting an Option as a Tentative Agreement

The accepted option is written as a tentative agreement, either in concept or in final contract form, and signed by the parties. All tentative agreements are set aside until all issues are completed before they are presented for ratification. Sometimes, the parties may not reach agreement on some issues. Those should be set aside to be discussed later. If they remain unresolved, only those issues will be submitted to the traditional impasse procedures. The agreed issues will remain as tentative agreements as in traditional negotiations. As each issue is resolved, it is crossed off the posted list, and the parties move on to the next issue until all are resolved.

Skills Needed

There are no special skills or characteristics needed that are exclusive to IBB. Skills such as strong advocacy, experience, creativity, verbal skills, and ability to take risks will help the process. The participants must never forget that they are representatives of their constituents, and that the tentative agreements must be accepted by their members. Strong advocates usually can anticipate their members' needs. Creativity is one of the primary characteristics of good negotiators, no matter what process they use. It is essential for IBB, because innovation distinguishes it from traditional bargaining. The teams also should have some risk takers who can consider non-traditional solutions to collective bargaining problems. Creative risk takers who are strong advocates are ideal IBB participants. Good verbal skills are also essential. Those who can express themselves clearly and effectively enhance the process. Experience in negotiations is helpful but it is not critical for all team members to be experienced.

See also the Checklist for interest-based bargaining preparation.