close window
 What We Do / Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management / Collective Bargaining / Interest-Based Collective Bargaining
  Joint Problem-Solving (Interest-Based Bargaining, IBB)

What is Interest-Based Bargaining?
There is an alternative to traditional collective bargaining that is known by many names: Win-Win Bargaining, Mutual Gains, Principled or Interest-Based Negotiation, Interest-Based Problem Solving, Best Practice or Integrative Bargaining. No matter what you call it, interest based bargaining may offer parties more flexibility than traditional bargaining. Unlike traditional bargaining, where the parties begin with predetermined positions on issues, the process opens with both parties first seeking to understand the issue or problem. Next, they identify the underlying interests of each side. Often, parties discover that their interests are mutual and that both sides are trying to achieve the same goal but just taking different approaches. Having identified interests, the parties can generate options that satisfy their needs. Options are evaluated according to objective criteria. Solutions are adopted by consensus. 

Parties find that interest-based bargaining is a process that enables traditional negotiators to become joint problem solvers. It assumes that mutual gain is possible, that solutions which satisfy mutual interests are more durable, and that solutions are more creative.  

Parties Find High Levels of Satisfaction with Interest-Based Bargaining
Parties who participate in IBB have learned that agreements tend to address issues in more depth than those reached using traditional techniques because they are the result of a process aimed at satisfying mutual interests by consensus, not just one side’s interests at the expense of the other. And because negotiators are dealing with each other on a different level, the results usually go beyond immediate issues to address longer term interests and concerns.

In the collective bargaining context, it assumes that negotiation can enhance the labor-management relationship, and that decisions based on objective criteria obviate the need to rely only on power.

The Principles of Interest-Based Bargaining

  • Sharing relevant information is critical for effective solutions.
  • Focus on issues, not personalities.
  • Focus on the present and future, not the past.
  • Focus on the interests underlying the issues.
  • Focus on mutual interests, and helping to satisfy the other party’s interests as well as your own.
  • Options developed to satisfy those interests should be evaluated by objective criteria, rather than power or leverage.

Where IBB Works Best
Interest-based bargaining is not -- nor should it be -- a universal replacement for positional or distributive negotiating. In an appropriate setting it offers an alternative with certain advantages. If the parties are unable to adopt the IBB principles, the process will probably fail. When the parties switch back to traditional bargaining after starting an IBB process, there is the danger there will be increased suspicion and distrust. Their relationship may suffer as a result. Some of the necessary components which increase the likelihood of successful IBB negotiations are:

  • In a collective bargaining environment, evidence of labor-management cooperation during the past contract term.
  • Sufficient time remaining prior to contract expiration to complete the sequence of decision-making about IBB, training and application of the process.
  • Willingness of the parties to fully share relevant bargaining information.
  • Willingness to forgo power as the sole method of "winning."
  • Understanding and acceptance of the process by all participants and their constituents.
Is IBB Right For Your Organization?
Effective IBB begins with an orientation by FMCS mediators. If participants cannot accept the principles and assumptions that underlie the process, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to follow the steps and use the techniques during negotiations.

When the parties and FMCS determine that IBB is appropriate, training is the next step. The program includes exercises which test participants’ ability to work through the process to completion -- an indicator of how well the parties will handle the process in actual negotiations.

With a decision to proceed, mediators facilitate a joint meeting of the participants to reach agreement on ground rules and protocols under which the bargaining will be conducted, an exchange of the issues to be negotiated, and steps for a transition to traditional bargaining if the IBB process breaks down.