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The Orange Parable

There once was a mother who walked into her kitchen to find her two children fighting over an orange. The children's mother was too tired to deal with their bickering and didn't want to ask why they wanted the orange in the first place. So she decided to end matters quickly by cutting the orange into equal halves. She gave one half to her younger child and the other half to her older child.

Later, the children's mother returned to the kitchen to find that both kids were still unhappy. She finally asked them what was going on. The younger child said he wanted the orange peel for a baking project and he only ended up with half of the peel. The older child said that he wanted to squeeze the orange pulp to make juice and he only ended up with half of the orange pulp.

In hindsight, the mother in the parable could have easily created a win-win solution that would have maximized the value of the orange for both of her kids. More specifically, she could have 1) simply peeled the orange, 2) handed all of the peel to her younger child for the baking project, and 3) handed all of the pulp to the older child for the juice-making.

The moral of the story is that it is sometimes counter-productive to focus exclusively on what the parties want in a dispute. Often it is important to also ask why they want what they want. And often it is important to be patient, avoid making too many assumptions based on first impressions, and dig deeper to find out what will really resolve the dispute.

Referenced in

Expanding the Pie

The Orange Parable is a classic example of how focusing on underlying goals/needs instead of positions can benefit negotiations