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Look Also to the Interest of Others

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Look Also to the Interests of Others

Look Also to the Interests of Others
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Philippians 2:4 NLT
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
So far we have focused primarily on how to resolve the personal issues that can arise during a conflict. As we all know, however, conflict may also involve material issues. Two friends may disagree on the cost of repairing damaged property, or two businesspeople may interpret a contract in entirely different ways. A couple may disagree on where to spend a vacation. Neighbors may differ on whether or not a fence needs to be replaced and who should bear the cost. Until these substantive matters are settled, peace will be hindered, even if the related personal issues are resolved. In this chapter we will look at five principles that can help you reach agreements on material issues in a biblically faithful manner.

Cooperative versus Competitive Negotiation

Many people automatically resort to a competitive style when negotiating material issues. They act like they are having a tug-of-war, with each person pulling aggressively to get what he or she wants and letting others look out for themselves.
Although this approach may be appropriate when prompt results are needed or when someone is defending important moral principles, it has three inherent weaknesses. First, a competitive approach often fails to produce the best possible solution to a problem. When people work against each other, they tend to focus on surface issues and neglect underlying desires and needs. As a result, they often reach inadequate solutions. Moreover, a competitive approach usually assumes that for one side to get more of the pie, the other side must get less. This “fixed pie” attitude discourages the openness and flexibility needed to develop creative and comprehensive solutions.
Second, competitive negotiation can also be quite inefficient. It usually begins with each side stating a specific position, and progress is made by successive compromises and concessions. Because each compromise typically is about half the size of the previous one and takes twice as long, this process can consume a great deal of time and generate significant frustration.
Finally, competitive negotiating can significantly damage personal relationships. This approach tends to be very self-centered and easily offends others. It also focuses on material issues rather than on personal concerns, perceptions, and feelings. At best, those involved in the process get the message that these relational matters are unimportant. At worst, the inherent contest of wills leads to overt intimidation, manipulation, and personal attacks. This competitive process often results in seriously damaged relationships.
Many of these problems can be avoided by negotiating in a cooperative rather than a competitive manner. People who practice cooperative negotiation deliberately seek solutions that are beneficial to everyone involved. By working with our opponents rather than against them, we are more likely to communicate and appreciate underlying needs and concerns. As a result, we are apt to develop wiser and more complete solutions. When carried out properly, cooperative negotiation is relatively efficient, because less time and energy is wasted on defensive posturing. Best of all, because attention is paid to personal concerns, this style of negotiation tends to preserve or even improve relationships.
Cooperative negotiation is highly commended by Scripture, which repeatedly commands us to have an active concern for the needs and well-being of others:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” ().
“[Love] is not self-seeking” ().
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” ().
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (; cf. ).
Having a loving concern for others does not mean always giving in to their demands. We do have a responsibility to look out for our own interests (). Furthermore, Jesus calls us to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (). The Greek word phronimos, translated “shrewd” in this passage, means to be “prudent, sensible, and practically wise.”1 A wise person does not give in to others unless there is a valid reason to do so. After gathering all the relevant information and exploring creative options, a wise person works toward solutions that honor God and provide lasting benefits to as many people as possible. While this may sometimes lead to unilateral concessions, it usually requires that both sides contribute to a solution.
As these passages indicate, cooperative negotiation may be described as a combination of love and wisdom. I have found that this loving and wise process generally involves five basic steps, which may be summarized in this simple rule: When you need to negotiate, PAUSE. This acronym stands for the following steps:
Affirm relationships
Understand interests
Search for creative solutions
Evaluate options objectively and reasonably
The more carefully you follow each of these steps, the more likely you will be to reach mutually beneficial agreements on material issues.


Preparation is one of the most important elements of successful negotiation (, ). This is especially true when significant issues or strong feelings are involved. Several activities are good preparation for negotiation:
Pray. Ask God for humility, discernment, and wisdom as you prepare.
Get the facts. Read relevant documents carefully (e.g., contracts, employment manuals, letters). Talk with key witnesses. Conduct necessary research.
Identify issues and interests (which I will define below). Try to discern the real cause of the disagreement. Carefully list the issues involved. Make a list of your interests as well as the interests of others as you understand them.
Study the Bible. Clearly identify the biblical principles involved, and make sure you know how to put them into practice.
Develop options. Do some brainstorming before you talk with your opponent so you can propose a few reasonable solutions to the problem. Be prepared to explain how each option will benefit your opponent.
Anticipate reactions. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and try to predict a few likely reactions to your proposals. Develop a response to each of those reactions.
Plan an alternative to a negotiated agreement. Decide in advance what you will do if negotiations are not successful.
Select an appropriate time and place to talk. Consider your opponent’s possible preferences.
Plan your opening remarks. In particular, plan how to set a positive tone at the outset of the meeting and how to encourage your opponent to enter into the discussion with an open mind.
Seek counsel. If you have doubts about how to proceed with negotiations, talk with people who can give you wise and biblically sound advice.
The Barking Dog. To make this discussion as practical and vivid as possible, I will show how the PAUSE approach to negotiation could be followed in an actual conflict. We will consider the following situation throughout this chapter.
Jim and Julie Johnson live on a two-acre tract of land outside of town. Their nearest neighbors, Steve and Sally Smith, have a similar acreage. The two houses are located within a hundred feet of each other on adjacent corners of the properties. The Smiths raise Border collies as a hobby and a small business. A few weeks ago they acquired a new dog named Molly, who barks sporadically several evenings a week. The annoying barking has been keeping the Johnsons awake at night, and their children are complaining about being tired in school. To make matters worse, the Smiths recently began to exercise and feed Molly at 5:00 a.m. This noisy activity robs the Johnsons of another hour of sleep.
A week or so ago, Jim noticed Sally working in her garden, and he went over to ask if she would do something about the barking. She said she was sorry, and for a few days the barking subsided. Within a week, however, it started again and seemed even worse than before. Yesterday another neighbor told Julie that Steve had called everyone in the subdivision to see whether the dog was bothering them. In the process, he had said some very critical things about Jim.
Julie has conducted her own survey and found out that only a few of her neighbors have been annoyed by Molly’s barking. Two neighbors are hard of hearing, and some of the others live far enough away that they cannot hear the dog. Julie then checked with the county attorney and found out that it is a misdemeanor to keep a dog that disturbs a “considerable number of persons” in a neighborhood. Unfortunately, the county attorney does not seem to believe that Molly has disturbed enough people to justify misdemeanor charges. Therefore, Jim and Julie will need to negotiate a solution without the aid of the authorities.
Since the problem with the barking dog did not need to be resolved immediately, Jim and Julie took several days to prepare to negotiate with the Smiths. Each day they prayed for the Smiths and asked God for wisdom and discernment. They also spent some time discussing how to apply relevant biblical principles to this situation.
To verify their complaint and identify significant patterns, they began to keep a written log of when Molly barked. Jim read the subdivision covenants to see whether there were any rules against barking dogs, but there were none. Julie went to the library and looked in several books on dog training. They made a list of the suggestions that expert trainers gave regarding barking dogs.
Jim and Julie identified two issues that needed to be addressed: (1) Is it reasonable to expect the Smiths to do something about Molly’s barking? (2) If it is, what is the best way to moderate her barking? They then made a preliminary list of the interests involved. They decided that they had the following interests: a desire for peace and quiet, sufficient rest for their children, and a comfortable relationship with the Smiths and with other neighbors. They speculated that the Smiths had these interests: an affection for dogs, a need for additional income, and possibly a resentment toward “being told what to do.” (More interests are listed later in this chapter.)
The Johnsons then put together a preliminary list of options that might solve the problem, including the following: sell the dog, teach the dog not to bark, get a remote-controlled shock collar for the dog, muzzle the dog, get ear plugs for themselves, and so on. They tried to anticipate how the Smiths would respond to each option and listed the costs and benefits of the more viable ones.
Jim and Julie also spent some time discussing what they would do if the Smiths refused to do anything about the barking. Although they were tempted to find a way to retaliate and make life difficult for the Smiths, they knew that would not please or honor God. Therefore, they decided that if they could not stop the barking right away, they would simply work harder at cultivating a positive relationship with the Smiths. They would do this by inviting them over for meals, taking time to get to know their children, and looking for opportunities to help them or to be kind to them.
Since the Smiths seemed to relax more on Saturdays, Jim and Julie decided that would be a good time to approach them. They also decided that it would be wise to offer to talk at the Smiths’ home, which would put them more at ease. They planned to request a meeting by having Jim go over to the Smiths in person and say something like this: “Molly seems to be barking a lot lately, and our children are having a difficult time getting enough sleep. Julie and I would appreciate it if you would be willing to take a few minutes to talk with us about this situation.”
Jim and Julie also discussed three ways that Steve and Sally might react to this request, and they planned appropriate responses. Once their preparation was complete, they were ready to approach the Smiths.
This may seem like a lot of work, and it is. But in this real-life conflict, Jim and Julie wisely realized that they could either put their time into lying awake at night and grumbling throughout the day about the barking dog, or they could put their time into carefully negotiating with their neighbors to find a solution to this problem. You will need to make the same choice when you are faced with an issue that could affect you, your family, your church, or your employment in a significant or prolonged way. It will not be a question of whether you spend time on the problem; it will be a question of where or how you spend time on the problem. As Jim and Julie discovered, the sooner you devote your time to finding a solution to the problem, the less time you will spend stewing over it.

Affirm Relationships

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm your respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process. For example, you may begin a conversation with words like these:
“You are one of my closest friends. No one in town has been more kind or thoughtful toward me. It’s because I value our friendship so much that I want to find a solution to this problem.”
“I admire how hard you have worked to pay this debt. I also appreciate your efforts to keep me informed about your financial situation. Since you have treated me with respect, I would like to do everything I can to find a workable payment plan.”
“I appreciate your willingness to listen to my concerns about this project. Before I explain what they are, I want to make it clear that I will respect your authority to decide this matter, and I will do all that I can to make this project successful.”
Obviously, these affirming words must be backed up with comparable actions. If they are not, your opponent will rightfully conclude that you are a flatterer and a hypocrite. Here are a few ways to demonstrate concern and respect during the negotiation process:
Communicate in a courteous manner. Listen respectfully to what others have to say. Use words like “please,” “May I explain?” “Would it be all right with you if …?” and “I don’t think I explained my reasons very clearly.”
Spend time on personal issues. Instead of moving directly to material issues, try to understand your opponent’s personal concerns. Deal with personal offenses and frustrations as soon as possible.
Submit to authority. Offer clear and reasonable advice, and be as persuasive as possible, but respect the authority of leaders and support their decisions to the best of your ability.
Earnestly seek to understand. Pay attention to what others are thinking and feeling. Ask sincere questions. Discuss their perceptions.
Look out for the interests of others. Seek solutions that really satisfy others’ needs and desires.
Address sin in a gracious manner. If you must talk to others about their wrongs, use the skills described in chapter 8.
Allow face-saving. Don’t back others into a corner. Develop solutions that are consistent with others’ values and with God’s.
Give praise and thanks. When someone makes a valid point or a gracious gesture, acknowledge it or express your appreciation for it.
If you sincerely and consistently affirm your concern and respect for the other person, you will generally have more freedom to discuss material issues honestly and frankly. Even if you are not entirely satisfied with an agreement, it is wise to affirm your relationship with the other person at the end of the negotiation process. This protects your relationship from residual damage and may improve your ability to negotiate subsequent issues in a more satisfactory manner.
The Barking Dog. Affirming their relationship with the Smiths was a basic part of the Johnsons’ initial request for a meeting with them. By asking for a meeting instead of demanding it, Jim conveyed courtesy and respect. This process continued during their first meeting with the Smiths the next day. Jim began the meeting by saying: “We really appreciate your willingness to talk with us. In fact, we’re hoping that this situation will give us a chance to get to know one another better and to be better neighbors than before.”
After allowing Steve and Sally to respond, Julie asked if it would be all right for her to explain some of the Johnsons’ concerns. She chose her words carefully and used “I” (or “we”) statements as much as possible. She was careful not to accuse the Smiths of deliberately bothering anyone, and she made it clear that she and Jim were assuming the best about them. She then asked Steve and Sally to explain some of their feelings and concerns. As they did so, Jim and Julie asked questions at appropriate times and responded with statements like, “I see,” “I didn’t realize that,” and “That helps me to understand your situation.” Although the Smiths were somewhat defensive when the conversation began, they eventually began to relax. As their relationship with the Johnsons was affirmed, they became increasingly willing to talk about the problem that had brought them together.

Understand Interests

The third step in the PAUSE strategy is to understand the interests of those involved in the disagreement. Only then can you properly respond to the command to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In order to identify interests, it is important to understand how they differ from issues and positions.
An issue is an identifiable and concrete question that must be addressed in order to reach an agreement. For example: “Should the Smiths do something to stop Molly’s barking?” or “How can the Smiths stop Molly’s barking?”
A position is a desired outcome or a definable perspective on an issue. For example: “If the dog keeps barking, you should get rid of her,” or “She’s my dog, and you have no right to tell me what to do with her.”
An interest is what motivates people. It is a concern, desire, need, limitation, or something a person values. Interests provide the basis for positions. Some interests are concrete and easy to identify. For example: “I like breeding and training dogs, and I need the extra income,” or “My kids need sleep.” Other interests are abstract, hidden, and difficult to measure. For example: “I don’t want my family to think I can be pushed around,” or “This is the only thing I’ve ever done that made me feel like a success.”
As these examples demonstrate, positions are frequently incompatible. One person’s desired result often conflicts with the other person’s desired result. While interests may sometimes clash as well, in many situations the parties’ primary interests are surprisingly compatible. (For example, both the Smiths and the Johnsons probably want their children to enjoy living in this neighborhood.) Therefore, when people focus on interests rather than positions, it is usually easier to develop acceptable solutions.
The Bible is filled with stories that illustrate the wisdom of identifying and focusing on interests rather than positions. One of my favorite negotiation stories is described in . David’s popularity among the people of Israel had become so great that King Saul was jealous and tried to kill him. David and several hundred of his supporters fled into the desert, where they lived as mercenaries. During this time, they protected the flocks and herds of the local inhabitants from marauders. One of the people who had benefited from David’s protection was a wealthy landowner named Nabal. Therefore, when David’s provisions ran low, he sent ten young men to ask Nabal for food. In spite of the benefit that he had received from David, Nabal denied the request and hurled insults at the young men. When David learned of this, he was furious. He immediately set out with four hundred armed men, determined to kill Nabal and all his men.
In the meantime, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, learned what Nabal had done. Seeing the danger her husband was in, she set out to negotiate a peace treaty with David. First she loaded a large amount of food on several donkeys and instructed her servants to take it to David. (Very wise preparation!) She then mounted her own donkey and set out to intercept him before he had time to launch his attack. When Abigail met David at the foot of the mountains, she dismounted and bowed down before him. Then she said:
My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say.… [T]he Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands.… Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the Lord has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.
verses 24–31, emphasis added
This is an insightful and shrewdly crafted appeal. Abigail clearly affirmed her concern and respect for David (saying “please,” asking to talk, and repeatedly referring to him as “master”). She used words and metaphors that would be pleasing to his ears: “The Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master” reminded him of Samuel anointing him as future king, and “the pocket of a sling” touched on the most glorious moment of David’s life, when he killed Goliath with his sling. More importantly, instead of lecturing him or talking directly about her own concerns, Abigail focused on David’s primary interest in this situation. She had probably heard about King Saul’s recent massacre of an entire town of people who had innocently given assistance to David (). She also appeared to know that David had recently passed up an opportunity to kill Saul (). Abigail must have seen that David’s clean record and honorable reputation was of great value to him, especially when compared to Saul’s bloody record. She realized that if David stained his hands with innocent blood, he would lose God’s blessing as well as the love and respect of the people of Israel. David’s rage had blinded him to his own interests, but Abigail’s brilliant appeal brought him to his senses, and he expressed his gratitude:
David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.… Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”
This dramatic incident shows that “wisdom is better than strength” (). It also illustrates one of the most important principles of cooperative negotiation: The more fully you understand and look out for your opponent’s interests, the more persuasive and effective you can be in negotiating an agreement.
Before you attempt to understand the interests of other people, it is wise to make a written list of your own interests. Remembering the three opportunities provided by conflict, you might begin by listing interests related to glorifying God, serving others, and growing to be like Christ. This part of your list is primarily for your own benefit, and it may not be appropriate to reveal these interests to your opponent, especially at the outset of negotiations.
You should also note any personal concerns, desires, needs, or limitations that are not included in one of the categories described above. Your list should include everything that is of value to you or that might be motivating you in this particular situation. Once this list is fairly complete, it often helps to note which interests have the greatest priority. This will help you make wise decisions if you later have to choose between several interests.
You should then try to discern your opponent’s interests. Before you meet together, you may analyze information you already have or do some discreet research to develop a list of possible interests. When you are actually talking with your opponent, you should carefully note anything he says and does that reveals hidden interests. Asking “Why?” and “Why not?” and “How?” at appropriate times can provide additional insights.
It is often helpful to get each side’s interests out in the open. One way to do this is to take out a sheet of paper and write down all the interests that have already come to the surface. Explain to your opponent what you are doing, and read the items you are listing. Then ask what other concerns, goals, or interests your opponent has. As much as possible, acknowledge them as being reasonable and significant. Ask questions to clarify your understanding. Set a positive tone by drawing attention to similar interests and areas of agreement.
Once you and the other party understand each other’s interests, you can redefine and set priorities for the issues you will need to resolve to reach an agreement. Place the easiest issues at the beginning of your list. If you work on those first, you should see some positive results more quickly. This tends to encourage further cooperation and builds momentum as you move on to the more difficult issues.
The Barking Dog. By the time they sat down to talk with the Smiths, Jim and Julie had developed a more thorough list of the interests they thought were involved in this situation. It included the following items:
1. Personal interests that are confidential for now
a. Glorify God
i. Trust, obey, imitate, and acknowledge him
ii. Show the power of the gospel in our lives
iii. Overlook minor offenses
iv. Do all we can to live at peace
v. Do what is just and right
vi. Exercise compassion and mercy
vii. Speak the truth in love
b. Serve others
i. Teach our children by example what it means to be a Christian
ii. Do good to the Smiths; try to help them in concrete ways
iii. Demonstrate and, if possible, describe the difference Jesus has made in our lives, in the hope that the Smiths may be encouraged to follow him (if they are not already Christians)
iv. Help the Smiths see where they may need to change, and give them all the encouragement and help we can
c. Grow to be like Christ
i. See our weaknesses more clearly so that we will learn to depend on God more consciously and consistently
ii. See our sins and idols more clearly so that with God’s help we can repent and change
iii. Practice the character traits we see in our Lord, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, discernment, wisdom, and perseverance
2. Personal interests we should reveal
a. A desire for peace and quiet (which is the reason we moved to the country)
b. Sufficient rest for us and for our children
c. A comfortable relationship with the Smiths and with other neighbors
d. Having our children get along with the Smiths’ children so they can have good playmates nearby
3. Interests the Smiths may have that may be mentioned when it seems appropriate
a. Affection for dogs
b. A need for additional income
c. A comfortable relationship with their neighbors
d. Having their children get along with our children
4. Interests the Smiths may have that we should be sensitive to but should not mention
a. Tension within their marriage or family that makes them more irritable or less thoughtful toward others
b. Not enough money to pursue expensive solutions (e.g., building a new kennel)
c. A resentment toward “being told what to do”
Shortly after they sat down with the Smiths, Jim and Julie suggested that they try to understand one another’s interests in the situation. After the Johnsons explained what an interest is and how this step would help understand them, Steve and Sally jumped right to their position and said they were not willing to get rid of Molly. Jim reflected this back as an interest: “You value her a lot, don’t you?” Jim and Julie explained a few of their own interests and then paused to allow the Smiths to explain more of theirs. By reflecting and paraphrasing the Smiths’ words, the Johnsons showed they were really listening to them and trying to understand their perspective. This drew the Smiths out further. As they talked, Jim and Julie learned that their preliminary appraisal of the Smiths’ interests was fairly accurate, but it was not complete. They learned that the Smiths had these additional interests:
Steve and Sally both came from families that loved dogs and invested a lot of time and energy in them; Molly was descended from one of Sally’s father’s favorite dogs.
Steve didn’t feel very successful in his occupation as an accountant, but he derived a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from his success as a breeder and trainer.
One of the main reasons Steve and Sally valued their dogs so highly was that showing them provided an opportunity for their entire family to work and travel together; also, by assigning the care of the dogs to their children, they were teaching them to be responsible.
When they left town for family trips, Steve and Sally worried about their dogs because they had not found anyone they really trusted to take proper care of them.
Their house had been burglarized several years ago, and Sally was fearful of its happening again. Therefore, having a dog that barked at disturbances was very reassuring to her.
As Jim and Julie considered these additional interests, they realized that getting rid of Molly would not be an option for the Smiths. Solving this problem was going to take some careful thinking.

Search for Creative Solutions

The fourth step in the PAUSE strategy is to search for solutions that will satisfy as many interests as possible. This process should begin with spontaneous inventing. Everyone should be encouraged to mention any idea that comes to mind. Imagination and creativity should be encouraged, while evaluating and deciding should be postponed. As you are searching for possible solutions, avoid the assumption that there is only one answer to your problem. The best solution may involve a combination of several options, so feel free to use parts of several ideas to form a variety of choices.
During this stage, make a conscious effort to “expand the pie.” Try to bring in additional interests that could be satisfied as part of your agreement. For example, if the primary issue being negotiated is whether your neighbor will replace his broken fence, you might offer to help him remove some diseased trees that threaten to fall on your garage. By focusing on shared interests and developing options that provide mutual gains, you can create incentives for agreement on the more difficult points of contention.
As you begin to identify possible solutions that seem wise to you, you should make an effort to “sell” these options to your opponent. In other words, explain how these solutions would benefit your opponent.
The Barking Dog. After discussing their interests, the Johnsons and the Smiths began to search for some creative solutions to their problem. As the Smiths began to believe that the Johnsons were really trying to be reasonable, they relaxed more and were willing to do some “wild brainstorming” (as Jim put it). Here were some of the ideas they came up with:
The Johnsons and their children could get earplugs, or they could purchase a “white noise” box (a device that tends to mask other noise).
Teach Molly not to bark at night by using a remote-controlled shock collar.
Put a fence or row of trees between the houses to muffle the noise.
Exercise the dogs a little later in the morning.
The Johnsons could change their sleep schedule so that they are not in bed when Molly normally barks.
Get an electronic burglar alarm for the Smiths’ home.
Move the Johnson children’s bedrooms to the far side of the house where they wouldn’t hear the barking so much.
Partway through their discussion, Sally suggested that they think for a moment about the times that Molly barked the most. As they compared records, they discovered that most of the nighttime barking occurred when the Smiths were out of town for several days and Molly had not been out of her kennel for any exercise. (The person who took care of the dogs in the Smiths’ absence merely came by to give them food and fresh water.) Realizing that Molly was probably getting tired of being confined, Julie offered to have her oldest daughter, Karen, feed and water Molly and take her for a walk each day when the Smiths were gone. Sally knew Karen to be responsible and conscientious, so she was open to the idea and even said that they could pay Karen. However, Steve doubted that Karen could handle Molly, so he was not willing to agree to this proposal.
Trying to change the focus of the conversation, Sally noted that Molly sometimes barked even when they were at home. Jim then asked, “What do you think Molly is barking at?” Several possibilities came to mind. The one that seemed most likely was that she was barking at people walking along a nearby highway. Jim asked whether Steve would be willing to move the kennel to the other side of his house where Molly couldn’t see the highway. Steve rejected the idea because he didn’t have time to do the work, and it would be too expensive to hire someone to do it. “Besides,” he said, “I’m not convinced that she’s barking at people along the road, so moving the kennel may be a total waste of time. Furthermore, there’s no shade on that side of the house in the afternoon, and I don’t want my dogs getting baked by the sun.”
After discussing a few more possibilities, Jim sensed that Steve’s patience was wearing thin, so he suggested that they take a few days to think about the situation and talk again on Wednesday evening. The Smiths agreed. As they left, Jim and Julie expressed their appreciation for the Smiths’ willingness to meet with them.

Evaluate Options Objectively and Reasonably

The final step in the PAUSE strategy is to evaluate possible solutions objectively and reasonably so you can reach the best possible agreement. Even if the previous steps have gone well, you may encounter significant differences of opinion when you get to this stage. If you allow negotiations to degenerate into a battle of wills, your previous work will have been wasted. Therefore, instead of relying on personal opinions, insist on using objective criteria to evaluate the options before you. If you are dealing with Christians, refer to relevant biblical principles. Whenever possible, introduce appropriate facts, official rules and regulations, or professional reports. In addition, you may seek advice from experts or respected advisors.
The Book of Daniel contains an outstanding example of an objective evaluation. When Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem in 605 b.c., he captured many Israelites from noble families and brought them back to Babylon. He instructed the chief of his court officials to bring in “young men without physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace” (). Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
When Daniel learned that he and his companions would be provided with food and wine that was ceremonially unclean, he asked the chief official for permission to eat different food. Although the official was sympathetic, he refused Daniel’s request, saying, “I am afraid of my lord the king.… Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you” (v. 10). This left Daniel with two interesting choices. He could eat the food and defile himself, or he could refuse to eat and either starve to death or be killed for disobedience. Instead, he chose to PAUSE.
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
As you can see, Daniel carefully prepared his negotiation strategy. He affirmed his respect for those who were in authority over him. By God’s grace, he understood the interests of the people with whom he was dealing. The king probably wanted healthy and productive workers. The chief official wanted to keep his head. Instead of focusing exclusively on his own interests, Daniel searched for a solution that would meet their interests as well as his own. Then, rather than offering his personal opinions, he suggested a way that the guard could evaluate his proposal objectively. When the test results showed that Daniel’s proposed solution was valid and reasonable, a permanent agreement was quickly reached.
In addition to using objective criteria, you should make every effort to negotiate in a reasonable manner. Listen carefully to your opponent’s concerns and suggestions, showing respect for his or her values and interests. Try to discern the hidden reasons behind objections and positions. Continue to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from that perspective. In your responses, build on the other person’s ideas and words. Invite specific criticism, alternatives, and advice. Whenever your opponent tries to put pressure on you, move the discussion back to objective principles. Throughout your discussions, treat the other person as you would like to be treated.
If your evaluations result in an agreement, it is often wise to put it in writing. This will help to prevent misunderstandings and subsequent disputes on the details. At the very least, your agreement should cover these items:
What issues were resolved
What actions will be taken
Who is responsible for each action
Dates by which each action should be completed
When and how the results of the agreement will be reviewed
If you are unable to reach an agreement, don’t give up too quickly. It may be that you need to return to one of the earlier steps to identify overlooked interests or to invent new options. On the other hand, it may be wise to summarize what you have accomplished and what remains to be done, and then take a few hours or days to think about the matter. If you believe that further private negotiations will be ineffective, you may suggest that the unresolved issues be discussed with the assistance of one or more objective advisors (see chapter 9).
The Barking Dog. When Jim and Julie got home that night, they made sure their windows were open so they could hear Molly the moment she began to bark. Sure enough, an hour later she began barking insistently. Jim ran outside and saw that two people on bicycles had just ridden by. He kept a journal for the next two evenings and noted three other barking episodes that coincided with people walking or riding by on the highway. He and Julie also prayed and talked some more about possible solutions. As a result, when they met with the Smiths on Wednesday night, they were prepared to offer some objective information and some creative proposals.
First they showed Steve their journal, indicating the relationship between Molly’s barking and people passing by on the highway. Steve acknowledged that Molly was probably barking at those people, but he repeated his concerns about the lack of shade and his lack of time to move the kennel. Jim countered by saying, “I’ve been looking for a way to give my son some experience in construction work. How about if he and I come over next Saturday and help you dismantle and move your kennel? I’ll bet it would only take us three or four hours. As far as needing shade, my father-in-law has got dozens of young trees on his land north of town. We could take your pickup truck out there and bring back all the trees you’d need to put in a great shelter belt around the kennel. Dad gets his land cleared, my son learns about carpentry and transplanting trees, and you have a new kennel.”
Jim’s proposal was so reasonable that Steve couldn’t think of a way to say no. That’s when Julie added her suggestion: “I have an idea about the problem of your going out of town. I talked with Karen, and she said she’d be delighted to take care of your dogs. I can understand your reluctance to trust them to a stranger, so why not have her come over to your house every day for the next week to help you work your dogs? If she proves she can handle them, then maybe you’ll feel more comfortable trusting her with them. If not, we can look for another solution. Also, I should tell you that if you let her care for them, she would prefer not to be paid in cash. What she would really like is a puppy out of one of Molly’s litters next year.”
Once the conversation turned to puppies, Steve’s heart really softened. The more he thought about the suggestions Jim and Julie were making, the more he liked them. It took a while to work out all of the details, but later conversations became even easier as the two families learned to cooperate more and more.
Summary and Application
Negotiation does not have to be a painful tug-of-war. If approached properly, many people will respond favorably to cooperative negotiation, which can allow you to find mutually beneficial solutions to common problems. Sometimes all it takes is a willingness to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”2
1 W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 679.
2 For further direction and insight on cooperative negotiation, see Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). This highly respected book provides excellent guidance and practical suggestions on how to negotiate agreements.
Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 225–245.
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