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Interest-Based Negotiation

Interest-Based Negotiation

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that bargaining from interests rather than positions can lead to more satisfactory and quicker outcomes than positional bargaining.

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Video Transcription

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When parties are in conflict, they are typically on opposite sides of an issue. They each have taken a strong position. So how do you bridge that golf, so they can come together and move towards a mutually-satisfactory solution?

Well, I'm Marlene. And today, I'd like to talk with you about that. I'd like to talk with you specifically about something called interest-based negotiation. I've written that here. Interest-based negotiation.

And it is what it says it is. It's negotiating on the interests that the parties have. Not their positions, but the underlying interests, so that you have a better chance of meeting those interests in a final solution.

So it's the opposite of positional bargaining. Now, parties come in with their positions. I'm going to write positions down here.

They come in with their positions, what they think they want. Underneath those positions are the real interest, the real needs that they have to have satisfied. It's why they're really there.

And we focus on the interests here. Put an x through the positions, because it's not about the positions. Now, it's a challenge to do this sometimes in US culture, because we are so used to positional bargaining. It's sort of part of our culture. You could see people haggling over price.

You'll find an ad online for a bicycle or a car and you call somebody, and you want to buy that. And people take their stance on this is what I'm going to charge for it. No, this is what I'm going to pay for it.

So it's a battle here on price-- the position that you've staked out for yourself in terms of what you will pay. And it becomes a win-lose. You can look at it as a win-lose proposition here.

This happens in a large amount of negotiations. Many negotiations take on this positional bargaining stance. You might have an environmental group and perhaps loggers, business owners. They each come in with their position.

The environmentalists say we're going to protect the land and that's it. That's what this is about. We're protecting the environment.

The loggers might say we're going to protect our business interests here. Here people in the community saying economic development, we're going to protect that. And it's hard to move very much what everybody stays with their initial position and won't move from it.

So by shifting from positional bargaining to interest-based negotiation, you have shifted from this win-lose-- I win on my side, and your side loses-- to examining and looking at the underlying interests, finding mutual interests, and then seeking ways to satisfy the interests, creative solutions that will be a win-win, not a win-lose. So that's the goal of interest-based negotiation.

Now, how does it work? Well, it works by asking the kinds of questions you need to ask to uncover the interests that each party has. And when you are in a conflict resolution process based on interest-based negotiation, it's important to follow some guidelines here in terms of how you speak to uncover those interests.

If you are expressing your own interests, using I statements in assertive communication is very helpful. For example, you can have a condominium association that is having a conflict over how to redo their common space outdoors. And there are a number of different positions people have taken on the issue. And as you begin to ask questions, and people begin to speak, it's apparent that there are interests underneath these positions that need to be expressed. Everyone needs to hear these interests, if they're going to come to a solution that will be satisfactory for everyone.

So when you're speaking about your particular interest in this meeting, use an I statement. You know, when I feel really a little nervous and upset about the plans, when I hear everyone here talking about plants to expand that common space in the back, I feel nervous, because it's going to impact my privacy. It's outside my window.

OK, that's a lot different than saying you're all just think about yourselves here. Nobody's thinking about what it's going to be like for me and the people on my side of the building, which is very adversarial. So once again, assertive communication is not aggressive communication. That example of you're just thinking about yourself is aggressive. Assertive communication speaks up and allows you to speak up for your needs, but using I statements, so it's respectful.

Now, it's also important to really understand the needs and interests of the other side. And so I always like to say seek to understand before being understood. And if you do that, it's reciprocal. People will listen and understand you as well.

So ask clarifying questions. Practicing active listening.

Now, active listening, of course, involves listing not just for the content, but for the underlying feelings, the emotions underneath the content. So you could ask a clarifying question. So can you tell me more about how you see that will be impacting you?

Or it sounds like you're quite concerned, you're a little bit concerned that we might be spending too much money on this project out here, the landscaping. So you're asking this question if did you get that right, did you understand that right. So you're seeking to understand their point of view by listening actively and asking questions.

Now, through this process of asking questions, speaking up assertively about your own interests and needs here, you can uncover what's really going on underneath the position, the underlying needs, and, perhaps, uncover some mutual interests. You might also discover, however, that there are some people who are sticking to their guns, they are sticking to their positions. And they don't want to move. Everybody else seems to make some shifts here in understanding. But when people are unwilling to give up a position, many times it's because there's been an unexpressed interest.

For example, you may have a person in this meeting, we'll call him Tom, who is really not buying into this landscape plan and is against it, no matter, he just is against this. So how do you find out what's underneath this position of being so opposed to this? By giving some attention to Tom here, asking the right kinds of questions, allowing him to speak, you may uncover this unexpressed interest.

It may turn out that Tom's been the one who's been doing all the gardening. He's really enjoyed it. He's enjoyed the fact that people have given him this responsibility, and now it feels like it's being taken all away. They're going to go out with some landscaping company, and he's lost this role that we had that he cherished, the recognition he got for doing this.

So Tom would like to be part of the landscaping, whatever the plant is. He would like to be involved in that. He would like to be someone who tends to taking care of the garden or the landscaping. Nobody really realized that before. They thought maybe he'd be glad that they were going to be redoing this space, and he wouldn't have so much to do.

So it's important to spend time uncovering the underlying interests and needs giving everyone a chance to really speak and be heard and to express your own interests in a respectful way using assertive communication and I statements. Thank you for joining me. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

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

Interest Based Negotiation

A form of negotiation in which parties interests rather than positions are focused on in an effort to get all interests fully met.


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

Unexpressed Interest

A party's interest in a conflict which has not been stated or explained to anyone other than the party holding the interest.