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Positions often conflict, Interests rarely do

Positions often conflict, Interests rarely do

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that parties in conflict can often have their interests met by moving away from positions

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Positions Often Conflict, Interests Rarely Do

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Conflict often arises when people stake out opposite positions on an issue. I'm Marlene, and I'd like to talk with you more about that today.

So interest and positions. I've written both of those words here.

And when people are in conflict, they have an interest that needs to be met. An interest is really what they need in order to feel satisfied. It's the outcome. It's really why they are there. So let me put why here.

However, often in conflict, people don't talk about their interests, what they really need, why they're there. But they talk about positions, because the position is what they come in saying they need. It's a way of getting the interest met.

And they may think it's the only way-- so it's the solution-- when perhaps it's not the only way to meet the interest. So it's what they say they need.

So this is my position, this is what I need. But underneath that position is an interest. It's really the reason why you've taken the position.

So what often happens is that parties in conflict engage in positional bargaining. Positional or distributive bargaining. I'm just going to write the word bargain here.

So get into bargaining about either parts of each one's position. And this will often be very dissatisfying, because you're trying to trade elements of positions. And you find you can't meet all or even part of each party's position. And oftentimes, both parties will go away feeling a bit dissatisfied.

I mean, this could happen in negotiating or bargaining over price on something. One side says, I'm going to drive a hard bargain. I'm not paying that top price. I'm going to see if I can drive it down. And the other side is saying, I'm going to keep it at this. But, OK, I'll come down a little.

And so you've got this positional bargaining going on around price. And both parties might walk away feeling-- one party feels like, I didn't get what I really needed or wanted. And the other side says, I paid too much.

So oftentimes there's dissatisfaction here because positions will conflict. But interests rarely conflict, and oftentimes, when you begin to uncover the interests of each side, you can uncover shared or mutual interests. OK?

So here we have some shared interests. And this would be what to focus on. What are the shared interests here? Because now perhaps we can uncover some other ways that we can meet the interests of both parties.

So you could have something around price, money. Perhaps it's a tenant/landlord situation. Two positions here.

The landlord has decided to raise the rent. And the tenant won't pay the raised rent, will have to move. So raising the rent, you pay it. The tenant's saying, can't pay the rent. I'll to move.

Now, underneath this, are there any shared interests? Well, if you get to the interests here, you may discover that the tenant has lived there a number of years. He likes living there.

The landlord has found the tenant to be a good tenant, would like to keep this good tenant. So they both have an interest in maintaining their relationship here, this business relationship.

But the landlord is raising the rent because of repairs, things that need to be done in the building. Painting, other kinds of repairs. And expenses have gone up, and the only way to fund this is by raising the rent.

The tenant is having trouble paying that, because he has lost hours at work. They've cut back. He is only working part-time so he can't pay the rent. So his interest, of course, is-- they both have interests here round money-- but underneath that there's the repairs.

He has some extra time. There could be some creative problem solving here.

Perhaps the tenant might say, look, why don't I do some of the painting for you? Could I do some of the repairs? I'm a handyman, maybe I can help out that way to keep the rent the same.

So you see the minute they begin to talk about shared interests, what it is they both really need in order to feel satisfied, there may be some other ways to satisfy those needs. So that's one example.

This could happen on any number of levels. Perhaps you're at work and your boss is saying, you've got to work overtime. And you're saying, I can't work overtime. I have to get home. I have to leave at 5:00 to pick up my child.

So I have to leave at 5:00. You have to work overtime. So what's underneath that? What are the interests underlying these two positions?

Well, obviously one of them, I have to pick up my child. I want to be a good parent. I can't stay here. I don't have any other options.

The boss is saying, we have to meet a deadline, and there are people who are out sick. We have less people to meet this deadline. The only way to do this-- my position-- is you have to work late.

Are there shared interests here? Well, both you and your boss want to meet the deadline. You want to satisfy the client. So how do you do this?

Perhaps if you begin to explore other ways to do this, you may come up with any number of alternatives. You might come in early to work. You might come in on Saturday and bring your child with you. You might do some work from home. There could be a number of ways to satisfy the deadline and the client and meet both mutual needs.

So when we move away from positional bargaining and our positions to explore the interests underneath, we can oftentimes come up with creative solutions that we weren't aware of originally. And when someone takes a stance that's a position that sounds-- they sound firm, it's always good to be using clarifying questions to ask so why are you saying you need to raise the rent? Is there a particular reason the rent is going up?

Ask them clarifying questions to get at the reasons underneath someone who's taken a position to see if you can uncover the interests, and by doing so, uncover shared interests.

So 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.


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

Positional/Distributive Bargaining

A form of negotiation in which elements of each party's positions are seen as things to be traded back and forth in an effort to get needs partially met.

Shared/Mutual (Joint) Interests

Interests held by all parties to a conflict.