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Understanding the distinction between positions and interests

Understanding the distinction between positions and interests

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial the learner will understand the differences between positions and interests.

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Understanding the Distinction Between Positions and Interests

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When people are in conflict, typically they are on opposite sides of an issue. So is there any way to bridge that gap? Well, I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about. That

I'd like to talk specifically about two things, positions and interests. Let's start with positions.

Now, positions are typically what people come into conflict with saying that they want. So a position is what someone says they want, because they see it as a way of getting their interests met. So I'm just going to write "what" here.

This is what you say you want, if you're a conflict, on one particular side. It's a stance you've taken.

But an interest is really why you want that. It is the reason why you are saying you want something in particular. It's an action, a belief, an outcome that you need in order to feel satisfied. So this is really the why.

So we don't get confused here, because it's easy to confuse positions and interests. And oftentimes, when people come into conflict, that's what they do. They fight for a particular position because they think, this is the only way. The position I have is the only way I'm going to meet my interest.

And don't explore the interest itself, because many times there might be another way to meet that interest, not just the one you've come in with thinking that you've got to have. So let me give you an example here.

You're at work and your boss has said, you have to work overtime. You have to work overtime this week. That's your boss's position.

Your position is, I have to lead by 5:00. So how do you bridge this? Work overtime. I have to leave by 5:00. Those are the positions. What are the interests underneath the position?

Well, perhaps your boss is saying, we've got people out sick. I have to cover for those people. The client moved the deadline up. We have to meet the deadline with less people so I'm going to have to have you stay late to do that.

And your position is, I can't stay after 5:00. I'm part of a carpool, and I need to get back to pick kids up from daycare. It doesn't work for me to stay late.

So you need to pick up your kids. You need to be with the carpool to get back to do that. Your boss needs to meet this deadline, cover for people that are out. Are there any shared interests here?

Well, yes, there are. You both want to meet the deadline. You want to satisfy this client. That is important. So now that you both can talk about satisfying the client, is there a way-- if satisfying the client here is the real why that your boss has come up with this position of working overtime-- and you can agree that you both have that in common, what are some other options?

Well, perhaps you could come in early. You're willing to drive in early as long as you can leave to get your kids. Or you'll do some work from home. Is it possible for you to do some telecommuting to help meet this deadline?

And there may be other options you can brainstorm that would help get this project done to meet the deadline and satisfy the client. So you open up a whole host of possibilities here when you look at interests, and not just positions.

So here's another example, you live in a condominium and there are two sides here, two sides in conflict about pets. There are people who say absolutely no pets in this condo, and there's a group that say, we have to have a pet. I want to have a pet. So pets, no pets. Two totally different positions.

So what are the underlying interests? Well, perhaps the people who are taking the position of no pets are saying, we don't want to have property damage here. We don't want to take the risk of damage on the lawns from dogs. We don't want caps inside spraying. Pets are a danger here for property.

We don't want noise. We don't want barking dogs. So we're trying to protect the environment we live in and our investment.

People who want pets are saying, pets are family. I can't imagine living here without having a pet. I've always lived with a pet. I'm a good owner of a pet. I take care of my pets.

So is there something in common here in terms of interests? Well, both sides, of course, do have an investment in the property. Both sides want a comfortable living environment.

Is there a way to work on a compromise here on number of pets? Kinds of pets? Sort of guidelines for pet ownership? Penalties if something goes wrong? Can we explore this in a way other than just taking two sides?

So whenever you get to interests, you open up a number of options that you can put on the table that may be satisfactory to both sides so that you can meet mutual interests and move away from this positional back and forth.

So positions and interests. People come in with positions, and if they can uncover the interests underneath those positions, there's a good chance that you can bridge the gap between them.

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.