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Contrasting and Common Beliefs, Positions, and Interests

Contrasting and Common Beliefs, Positions, and Interests

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand how to map the beliefs, goals, and interests of parties and to identify whether each item is shared or unique to one party.

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When a conflict is particularly intense, complicated, they are multi parties involved, the conflict intervenor will seek to gather information upfront by doing a conflict analysis. He or she will gather that information from both parties separately, do a conflict map where they lay it out visually, and then bring the parties together. I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about gathering information about beliefs, interests, and positions.

Now, the belief, of course, is what each side sees as absolutely true, right, and correct. And the intervenor will probably discover that there are some differences here in terms of how each side sees the causes of the conflict, the consequences, the facts. But he or she will probably also discover that there are some similarities. And the interesting thing is that each side is probably unaware of where they have similarities in terms of their beliefs. And the mapping process is an excellent tool to reveal this to each party.

So once we've talked about the beliefs, of course, then the parties-- we want to find information about what other positions-- they probably have come in with their positions-- and the interests that they're trying to meet. Let's just review the difference here between an interest and a position.

Now, a position is a particular way of getting an interest met. And a party will come in with that solution already in mind-- this is what I absolutely have to have-- although there might be other ways that the interest could be met. The interest, of course, is that item, that action, that belief that the party believes it's absolutely essential to their satisfaction and their happiness. So they've taken a position about how to meet the interest.

So when the intervenor's doing the mapping process, they're going to be looking at the positions and also uncovering these interests. And let's just look at how this might work with a particular example. We'll do an example with land use, over land use policy. Quite often these conflicts can be intense, involve multiple parties, and go on for some time.

So it'll be a land use policy. And I've got two positions up here. Let's look at the kind of positions that might be taken.

We've got people in the community, perhaps living out on the west coast where it's scenic, but there's been some economic deprivation. They want economic development. They're talking about how to develop the land, to improve their state economically. So their economic development is their position.

Now, comes an environmental group, who realizes what they're considering doing and says, no-- environmental preservation. So it almost becomes an either/or here, economic development versus environmental preservation. Those are the positions.

Now, do they have anything in common in terms of interests? Well, when the intervenor will talk to them oftentimes will find out there are some different interests that they have, but there also are some things in common. And so I've listed some interests here.

In talking to the community members who want economic development, the intervenor discoveries that these items here-- natural beauty, open air, clean space, wildlife-- it's all very important to them. They do want to preserve that. That's why they live here. They love this area for those reasons. Of course, the environmental group also shares that.

But in addition to this, of course, the people in the community are wanting to preserve private property rights. That's a strong interest. And the environmental group is interested in recreational access for the public to these beautiful lands.

So now that we put these out as interests, we see in particular that these are shared interests. How can we work together here? Actually mapping this out so that you can see it visually can be enormously useful to both sides, because once they see the shared interests-- and there may even be more than what I've listed here-- it allows them to realize, well, we aren't totally different here on opposite sides. But this is an interest or belief that we hold in common.

And sometimes just discovering that will cause some cognitive dissonance, because quite often in these kinds of conflicts, each side is looking at the other side in an extreme way, perhaps labeling them and stereotyping them as being a certain way. And when they realize, well, there's some things we have in common here, then their mind has to make room for a new thought or idea about the other side

Of course, cognitive dissonance happens when the mind tries to hold two or more incompatible thoughts or beliefs. So how do we integrate this now? I thought this side over here was a certain way, but I am beginning to hold another idea at the same time in my mind about that. How do we integrate it? Well, that's where the conflict resolution process can really come in and be helpful. And the mapping-- because you do this visually-- is a great starting point because it allows each side to see where the shared beliefs are-- mutual interests and shared beliefs.

So, for example, you could look at these-- and actually these did happen out on the west coast. There was a community, who was in a complex, kind of complicated conflict over land use. And actually when they identify their common interests, they were able to identify over 100 alternative actions they could take to meet the interests of both sides. What happens is that once each side felt heard and realized they have these mutual interest, it went a long way towards defusing anger and personal accusation.

So, for example, private property rights, perhaps we do need to think of some ways to limit this if we want to preserve natural beauty. Recreational access, perhaps that could help lead to economic development over here to create some jobs. So you begin to brainstorm some ways some actions you could take that would allow all of these interests to be met for both sides.

So once, again, mapping is an excellent tool is an excellent tool for uncovering beliefs, interests, and position up front when the intervenor is gathering information from both side so that when they come together there will already be a sense where there is some common ground. So thank you for joining me today. I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A person's mental sense of what is true, right, or correct in a situation.

Cognitive Dissonance

A state in which the mind holds two or more incompatible thoughts or beliefs.


An action, belief, or physical item that a party perceives as important or essential to his/her satisfaction or happiness.


A particular way of getting an interest met, but not necessarily the only way of getting that interest met.

Shared Belief/Mutual Interest

A belief or interest held by all parties to a conflict.