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Effective Negotiators Distinguish Between Facts and Perspectives AND Values Both

I Don't Know It For a Fact...I Just Know It's True | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not “their” facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former Congress Member, New York.

It’s not the facts on the ground that are the greatest obstacle to peace, but rather facts in the mind. David Miller, International Peace Negotiator.

You and I do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Expert Negotiator Herb Cohen.

Often one hears people say that perception is reality. Effective negotiators say “No” to this singsong mantra.

Facts are discernible and provable. Most negotiators (and other neutrals) should be able to generally agree on the facts.

Perspectives are personal-guided by life experiences and situation. Negotiators do not seek agreement on perspectives.

Instead, they value both facts and perspectives and keep them separate.

An excellent instrument to distinguish facts and perspective or opinions is to take a test on a noncontroversial issue: The Weather.


Read each statement and circle F for Fact and O for opinion.

F O Weather person Chuck Bell of NBC says that this will be a

Nasty day and that is a fact. (Question 1)

F O Today, there is 100% chance of rain; winds up to 30 mph. (Question 2)

F O There may be up to 2 inches of rain during the next 48 hrs. (Question 3)

F O Precipitation water level as of today is 52 inches, 20, above normal. (4)

F O Unfortunately this weather will affect the July 4th festivities. (Question 5)

F O We experienced 40 mph winds causing an order to deflate

the July 4th large balloons. (Question 6)

F O Weather Reporter: Plenty of clouds tomorrow. (Question 7)

F O Weather Reporter: Tomorrow will be 60% cloudy. (Question 8)

Answers: 1=O, 2=F, 3=F, 4=F, 5=O, 6=F, 7=O, 8=F

Dispute Resolution Stages:

In any dispute resolution process, there are stages. Regardless of the number, these stages represent the logical communication flow that is most likely to reach an agreement or settlement. They usually flow as follows:



-Party Exchange of Information

-Issue identification.

-Creation of options + Discussion.

-Selection of options.

-Agreement or settlement.

Stage Three is the step where parties discuss, in the ideal, first facts and then perspectives.

Many people mix these two so here are some examples of them unmixed.

Example Facts: (A fact is a statement that can be proven true or false by evidence or documentation. Parties should be able to agree on these. If there are variants, these should be discussed and if possible, resolved.)

-Government assessment of real estate property

-Date of employee hire or fire or departure.

-Date when claim such as discrimination was filed.

-Date of when a person was born. Date of marriage or divorce.

-Measurement of real property, i.e. 5 acres.

-Date and amount of stock transfer.

-Employment handbook sections.

-Performance ratings.

-Date of monetary deposit.

Perspectives: (Perspectives may be equated to opinions which reflect a person’s feelings that cannot be proven. Opinions can be based on emotions or facts. Parties should not expect these to agree and they are valued.)

It’s not what you look at that matters; It matters what you see. Henry David Thoreau

Today, everyone has lots of opinions; incredibly, they are all correct.” Jon Favreau, former speech writer for former President Barak Obama.

Perspective examples:

-“I was forced to sign the Nondisclosure Agreement.

-“They were considered to be an excellent supervisor.”

-“They were family oriented.”

-“They were frugal.”

-“They were risk takers.”

-“They took a comprehensive approach.”

Ambiguity (Fuzziness-difficulty of deciding which elements belong and which do not):

There are situations that are not as clear as parties might like. Some, might consider these to be a fact; others, perspectives.

-Appraisal of real estate property. (Appraising is an inexact science. A licensed or certified appraiser issues a professional opinion. One might get second and third opinions.)

-A person is debilitated by a health situation. (Doctors try to use health utility measures but some say the patient’s attitude and even race may affect the opinion.)

-A person may say they play the violin (others may disagree). (Does this mean the player merely knows the basics, can play a song, can participate in a musical group.)

-Jury verdicts. (The same case can be presented to two different juries with varying decisions.)

-Arbitrator’s decisions. (Again the same set of facts may be presented to different arbitrators who may derive differing decisions.)

Overall, most research seems to indicate that most Americans (about 70%) can distinguish between facts and opinions. Possibly the more aware people are, the more educated, the more digitally savvy, the more one is likely to make an accurate distinction.*

Perspectives as Distinguished from Perception

Perspectives may be defined as the lens through which people see themselves, others and the world. People often see what people are conditioned to see. Sometimes, interpretation represents prior experiences. Perspectives is the meaning people give to a situation or event.

Example: In a particular neighborhood, one might see the place as “gentrifying” but others (especially new comers) might see the neighborhood as progressing.

Example: A group of folks standing on a downtown corner: Some might see this group as people talking; others, might see this group as loiterers and possibly drug dealers.

Rahomon is a 1950 Japanese period film that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self serving and contradictory versions (perspectives) of the same incident. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made.**


Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception, rather than mistakes of logic. Master Thinker Edward de Bono.

Perception is more the machinations of the mind which may involve the subconscious.

Example: Many folks are familiar with the ambiguous optical illusion of the older woman and younger woman. After much concentration, the mind flips between the two. Also, of interest is research shows an age bias so if one is young, one is more likely to see the younger woman first. More research seems to demonstrate that if one’s social system values “the elderly” they are equally able to see both. If the elderly is not valued, people are more likely to see the older woman first. Perceptions are complex.***

Example: Some also may remember the image of either a duck or rabbit. This picture was first published in a German magazine in 1892. This optical illusion was used in 1899 by American Psychologist Joseph Jastrow to show that perception and seeing also has to do with the brain, instead of just the eyes.

Jastrow contends if one can see both images, a person may have creative abilities.****

Example: Participants are presented a picture of squares or triangles. At first, they may see only one or two. After concentration, they begin to see many more.

Example: “What Matters Most Is How You See Yourself.” This is a picture of a cute lovely orange striped cat looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing a mighty Lion.

Example: “How others see you, is not important: How you see yourself means everything.” This is a picture of an older woman in a wheel chair whose shadow on the wall is a young, flexible ballerina.

Perception: What we don’t see.

We see what we want to see.

We see what we are accustomed to see.

We see what we need to see.

Example: A has been going to the same gym daily for 18 years. A broke their arm and took a month of physical therapy. One day in going to the gym, A spotted all of the machines at the gym that A used in PT. A had never seen those machines in the gym for 18 years.

Example: A teaches on weekends at a law school and has a security door entry card. One Saturday, the card did not work. Security was called. They recorded on a sheet the number and the professor’s name. Security wondered aloud whether it was the change of Daylight Savings Time. Sunday it did not work again. Security repeated their actions. The next day, the Professor called the ID department and discovered the entry card had expired. The Professor never knew there was an expiration date and the Security missed it despite the fact it was clearly in the middle of the card, in 12 font.

Example: B is from Springfield and had never noticed that Woebers Mustard is headquartered there. When B asked family members and friends they did not know either. Following that conversation, all of them saw Woebers trucks daily.

Example: C has owned a suitcase for 5 years. C inadvertently locked the suitcase before it went through security, but TSA opened it. C had never seen the red lock TSA code number beside the key hole that allows TSA to open basically all suitcases.

Combining Perception and Perspective:

A law professor (D) conducts an exercise in the negotiation class. D places five pieces of abstract art (similar to the cover picture that heads this blog entry) about the classroom. D gives each student 5 post-its. D asks each student to take 60 seconds before each piece of art and then write a title for the piece and posts it above the art. Always, students are astounded that 20 students can see art so differently. One sees a butterfly; another, war; rainbow; giving birth, explosion, willows, etc.

What explains this? Perspective and perception.

Conclusion: So, negotiators need to approach situations using a logical problem solving stage process. This represents the most logical communication process that is most likely to lead to a resolution or agreement. In Stage 3, Information Exchange, negotiators need to identify the provable, evidence based, document facts. Negotiators need to seek agreement on these facts by using their questioning and summarizing skills. Negotiators then need to note the so called “gray” areas where facts are not totally agreed on.

Then the negotiators need to move on to perspectives and perceptions. They need to value all since all may have an impact on the situation and the resolution. They should not seek agreement on opinions or perspectives.

This approach has the most potential for successful reaching creative and sustainable agreements.

NOTE: I would appreciate your comments.




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