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Updated: 13 Nov 2019

Negotiation Interests and Positions



Divergent viewpoints can be great at stimulating new ideas, or dangerous in leading to loss of productivity. An introduction into the interest based route to resolving organisational differences through negotiation.


When two people take opposing sides on any particular issue in a dispute, they both often refuse to budge from their differing viewpoints. The end result is a stalemate. If both sides find a solution, then both will win. We call this resolution a win-win negotiation outcome.

The Negotiation Position

The simple reason why many people fail to find a negotiated agreement is that each has taken what is known as a “negotiation position.” One wants something that the other doesn’t. 

It’s like kids in a playground yelling back and forth: “Can too!” followed by the equally persuasive reply: “Can’t too.” We often see a grown-up version of this in negotiations. There’s often a crucial request that neither side has asked the other. That request is to explain the reason and motivation behind the position they’re taking. The motivating forces or reasons which underlie their negotiation positions are what we refer to as their negotiation interests.” Interests are the “why,” or the basis for the negotiation position.

The main problem is that the people involved in a dispute tend to know the positions of the other negotiators. However, people often neglect to understand why the other person has taken this position in the first place.

There’s a classic example that illustrates how our knowing the other person’s interests might overcome positions. Two men seated together in a building are at odds on whether to keep a window open or closed. Hearing this ongoing feud, a third person enquires about the dispute. One gentleman demands to close the window to avoid a draft. The second gentleman wants the window open for the fresh air. The third person then goes into the next room and opens a window.

This simple solution resolves the problem by providing fresh air to one of the men while negating the issue of the draft for the other. A creative solution is applied by considering a smart solution that happily satisfies both their interests.

Negotiation Interests

Negotiation interests largely relate to basic human needs. Our needs are powerful influences in our decision-making processes. Interests not only include those tangible desires that correspond to the specific problem at hand, such as increasing sales or productivity. Our interests also link to our more basic human emotions. These emotions are less obvious to the participants.

These basic emotional needs are couched in our psyche, but some examples might include our need for:

  • Security
  • Empowerment
  • Inclusion
  • Control
  • Recognition

These intangible needs illustrate what we may well be overlooking when considering the interests of the other side. We might even neglect to truly consider our own basic human needs when trying to define or describe our interests to someone else. Our human needs are equally valid and just as important.

It’s vital to ferret out all the underlying information to determine not only our interests, but the interests of the other side. Let’s take a look at how we might accomplish this process.

What We Need to Know

What’s the issue?

We must be clear we understand the issue or problem by stating it clearly. Both sides should be in agreement on the fundamental issues at stake. Both sides need to do this before even attempting to resolve the issues. Otherwise, the sides will be at cross purposes, and resolution will be extremely difficult if not impossible. This is the first item where both sides have to find mutual agreement.

What Are the Obstacles?

Having defined the problem, it is equally crucial we understand what obstacles are preventing us from solving our dilemma. Each side will relate both similar and dissimilar obstacles that are acting as barriers to finding common ground. Both sides need to fully understand all the specific obstacles involved. If we neglect to perform this crucial step, both sides will not fully appreciate all the obstacles that prevent them from achieving closure.


Both sides need to take a step back. When confrontational disputes linger, there is a tendency towards personal animosity. We begin to take the matter too personally, and a highly charged atmosphere surrounds what we could describe as “verbal combat.” The participants need to separate themselves from the problem and restore some degree of objectivity.

What Are Your Negotiating Interests?

Our negotiating interests include those tangible needs or what we might consider as the underlying mechanical components of the problem. Payment terms, transportations costs, and scheduling are some of the issues that can be addressed at one level. Other interests, such as trust or anxiety, which also relate to our business interests, are equally relevant in terms of importance. We should observe caution, as either side could have a different opinion about the degree of importance they attach to each other’s interests.

Negotiation Problem-Solving

With negotiation problem-solving, we seek to first start with an understanding of the problem and the obstacles that need to be overcome, together with fully understanding each others’ needs and interests. The possibility of finding a solution is then greatly enhanced. We can address our approach to problem-solving through a mutual perspective of both sides’ unique and somewhat different circumstances. We can break down most negotiation problems into different components, lessening the strength of any obstacles that lay in the path to a mutually agreeable negotiated resolution.


All negotiation positions are supported by interests. Only by knowing and defining these interests can we really be effective in clearly appreciating and understanding the full extent of the dispute. This approach applies to every kind of dispute, whether it is a business venture, a dispute with a co-worker, or even within the fabric of our everyday lives.

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  • 14
    Teresa Secoli on

    This is one of the best articles I have read about interests and positions. It has clarified some doubts I had and I am now more confident in tackling this topic.

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