The tale of two chefs

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert Hanovich
  • 22nd Operations Group

Once upon a time, two four-star chefs, working in a five-star restaurant, were charged with creating a specular meal. Each chef began making their most delicious recipe, however, halfway through their preparations, both chefs reached for the one and only orange in the entire kitchen. 


Each needed the orange for their recipe and so, began the argument. After fighting over the orange for over an hour, they reached a compromise by cutting the orange in half, then finished their preparations.  Unfortunately, the results were mediocre and not very tasty. 


You see, each recipe called for more than half of an orange; one for the entire peel and the other for only the meat of the orange. If they had worked to understand each other's interest instead of arguing their positions, they both would have succeeded.    


We can learn from these chefs and avoid becoming entrenched in our positions, by instead working to understand and articulate our interests. Positions are surface statements of what people want or where they stand on a particular issue and do not provide a clear understanding of an individual's underlying motivations, desires or objectives. 


On the other hand, interests are statements of why people want something and explain the underlying reasons, motivations, desires, or objectives. As in the above example, if we argue our position, focusing on the “what” not the “why” of when we frame the discussion, negotiation, or issue in zero-sum terms with clear winners and losers. 


No one wants to be a loser, so we fight to win at all costs. In doing so we risk damaging relationships, strangling teamwork, burning bridges or compromise with mediocre results.  However, if we instead focus on understanding the underlying "Why" we can expand the decision space and open the opportunity to achieve a win-win. 


So the next time you're arguing your "what" you want, take a moment to articulate the "why" you want it.  More importantly work to understand the other person's "why," instead of entrenching in your own position. At the very least you'll understand the other person's "why," and you'll likely avoid serving up a mediocre meal.