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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Negotiation Positions vs. Interests


Divergent viewpoints can be great at stimulating new ideas, but can be dangerous and lead to loss of productivity. This article is an introduction to the interest-based route to resolving organizational differences through negotiation.


When two people take opposing sides on an issue in a dispute, they both often refuse to budge from their differing viewpoints. The result is a stalemate. If both sides find a solution, then both can win. We call this resolution a win-win negotiation outcome. You can achieve a win-win by training yourself to pay attention to the interests driving the other side’s position in a negotiation.

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’t!” followed by the equally persuasive reply: “Can too!” An example of this often plays out in “grown-up” negotiations when neither side has asked the other to explain the reason and/or motivation behind the position they’re taking. The motivating forces underlying negotiation positions are what we refer to as negotiation interests.” Interests are the “why” behind 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.

There’s a classic example, sometimes shared at negotiation training in Houston, that shows how knowing the other person’s interests can overcome positions:

Two men seated together in a building are at odds on whether to keep a window open or closed. Hearing this feud, a third person asks 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 the fresh air one of the men wanted while negating the issue of the draft for the other. This creative solution happily satisfies both sides’ interests.

Examples of Negotiation Interests

Negotiation interests largely relate to basic human needs. Our needs are powerful influences in our decision-making processes and informing the positions we take. Interests include those tangible desires that relate to the specific problem at hand, such as increasing sales or productivity. Also, our interests can 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 show what we may be overlooked 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 look at how we might accomplish this process.

What We Need to KnowWhat We Need to Know

What’s the issue?

We must be clear we understand an issue or problem by stating it clearly. Both sides should agree on the key issues at stake before even attempting to resolve the issues. Otherwise, the sides will be at cross purposes, and resolution will be extremely difficult—if not impossible. 

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.


Training yourself to take a step back is important in gaining perspective in a negotiation. 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.” Participants on both sides 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 the needs and interests behind each side’s position. 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 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. When we train ourselves to both know and define these interests, we can become effective in appreciating and understanding the full extent of the dispute. This approach applies to many kinds of disputes, for example, in business ventures, disputes with co-workers, and even within the fabric of our everyday lives.


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4.7 out of 5 from 6 responses
  • 4
    Melissa lopez on

    I am loving this article. this article teaches so much about our interests and positions with negotiation and it reads in a “down to earth” style which I like. The only thing I would want for this homepage is when where are the negotiation experts located at so I may put it in my APA citation!

  • 16
    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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