Whether it is a Forest Service range manager, a landlord or a neighbor, chances are there is someone outside your operation with an interest in how you manage your cattle and the land they graze.

Eric Peterson, a natural resource education specialist with the Wyoming Cooperative Extension service, works with ranchers to help them build win-win relationships with federal agencies and other resource-management entities.

In forging these relationships, he stresses four basic principles. First, he says, everyone likes success. But in a relationship between a rancher and, say, a BLM range specialist, each individual has a different definition or perception of success. For the rancher, access to public grazing lands can relate to financial success. The agency employee’s motivation, however, is different, relating more to professional responsibilities, meeting program objectives and, particularly, meeting his or her supervisor’s expectations.

The second principle is that for a relationship to be durable, it must serve the interests of both parties involved. If the rancher can help build a program that meets the agency’s goals and keeps the employee’s supervisor happy, Peterson calls it a win-win situation.

The third principle he stresses is to focus on interests rather than positions. There are, he says, two basic types of negotiation — positional negotiation and principled negotiation.

In positional negotiating, one or more parties begin with pre-determined positions and are prepared to sell or fight for their own agendas. This typically leads to mistrust and a win-lose situation.

Principled or interest-based negotiation begins with each party communicating his underlying interests — the principles that need to be satisfied for a successful resolution of the problem. This process can identify common ground upon which to build a constructive discussion. A rancher and the Forest Service, for example, might share a common interest in sustainability of the resource. Using that shared interest as a starting point, both parties can work toward win-win solutions.

Peterson outlines four important elements of principled negotiation.

  1. Separate people from the problem. Focus on attacking the problem rather than each other.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Consider a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
  4. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.