Actor-network theory tells us to get between someone and their interests. When we can make ourselves indispensable to where they want to go, we become an "obligatory passage point". They come to us, go through us and get where they are going with us as intermediaries. We then have put ourselves in a position to enact our definition of the problem, enroll them in scenarios which resolve the problem and mobilize them in their roles. (Spinuzzi, Network pp. 88-90)
I previously explored one obstacle to following this advice: the resistance some people display when we take an interest in their interests. Another obstacle is the complexity of people's interests. It may be possible to interpose ourselves with single-minded researchers in focused pursuit of a scientific breakthrough. Their extreme convergence of interests would make it possible to become an "obligatory passage point" in their quest. However, most of us present a far more diverse and complex assemblage of interests to anyone seeking to interpose themselves between us and our interests. Here's some of that complexity I explore when I teach the practices of negotiation.
- We often have a main interest that comes across to others as a demand, an ultimatum or something we cannot live without
- We usually maintain secondary interests as a fallback position when our main interest makes us vulnerable to getting rejected, shot down or manipulated
- We've had experiences with prior negotiations which have given us interests in repeating, or avoiding a repeat of, previous tactics
- We're operating in a context of other obligations which spawns interests in slowing it down or getting it done quickly
- We may be conducting this negotiation under the scrutiny of our constituencies which gives us added interests in looking good, protecting our pride or avoiding particular criticisms
- We may want others to make the final decision for us rather than burden us with total responsibility in situations where we lack authority, control or adequate information
- We can get backed into a corner where we need to be right at all cost or win at others' expense regardless of the long term consequences
- We are continually making assessments of the others' trustworthiness, integrity and honesty which updates our interests in being deceptive, manipulative or dishonest
- We're always making predictions about future developments which can result in our losing interest in working a deal or revising our interests in the middle of negotiations
- We may experience cognitive dissonance when faced with an unforeseen opportunity that contradicts our chronic victim story or justifications for personal limitations
- We may get a hot button pushed by an interaction which gives us an urgent interest in lashing out against others or intimidating the opposition to get them to back off
- We may become interested in seeming like a doormat, pushover or easy mark in order to generate others' sympathy, guilt feelings or entanglements
These complications give us a picture of others' interests as a rhizome. The assemblage of interests is "running off in every direction". The interests are in flux and highly interdependent. There's no way to approach the challenge of interposing ourselves with objectivity or a single interest in becoming an "obligatory passage point". The process of mutual intermediation, interacting with other interests, will transform us and them.