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In this blog post I want to tell you about a negotiation principle that I believe can be applied much more broadly.

That concept is this: Focus on interests, not positions.

Consider the story of two men quarrelling in a library. One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both.

Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: β€œTo get some fresh air.” She asks the other why he wants it closed: β€œTo avoid the draft.”

After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

I love this story. It clearly illustrates the concept of focusing on interests over positions.

Initially, it seems that both parties are in conflict about their positions. One of them wants the window open (position) and the other one wants it closed (position). This seems impossible to reconcile.

But the librarian still managed to find a solution. The librarian could not have invented the solution if she had only looked at their stated positions. Instead, she looked to their underlying needs (their interests) of having both fresh air and no draft.

This concept can be directly applied to my work as a machine learning engineer.

Even if you tick all the boxes in the acceptance criteria written on the ticket, you can still fail to solve the problem that the ticket was trying to address.

This is because what is written on the ticket (position) might not be the actual problem that needs to be solved (interest).

So try to look beyond just what is written on the ticket (position) and think deeply about the problem (interest) that this ticket is trying to address, and solve that instead.