Interests versus Positions

What You'll Learn
  • Understanding the differences between interests and positions is the cornerstone of collaborative negotiation success
  • Negotiators find solutions that address both parties' interests
  • Be clear about your interests before entering a negotiation
  • Communication involves talking and listening for the other party's interests
  • Finding the alignment between the parties' interests creates value for both sides

Understanding the difference between interests and positions is a cornerstone of collaborative negotiation success.

Positions Interests
What they say they want Why they want it
Positions are surface statements of where a person or organization stands, and rarely provide insight into underlying motivations, values or incentives. Interests are a party’s underlying reasons, values or motivations. Interests explain why someone takes a certain position.
Position Example: Union demands a five-year contract. Interest Example: Union wants time for workers to retool their skills before plant closings are implemented.

Often people take positions because they believe the position address their interests.   Rarely is that position the only way to address their interest. Sometimes their position conflicts with your interest. That Doesn’t mean there isn’t a position that can address both parties’ interests. Your job as a negotiator is less to convince than it is to find solutions that address both parties’ interests.

You need to be clear about all your interests before entering a negotiation and try to grasp the other side’s interests before and during a negotiation. The Negotiating Envelope helps you to define the boundaries for the conversation.

Positions Interests
Example: “Start a month early” Example: Finish project on time
What people say they want Why they want it; underlying motivations
Demands Concerns
Things you/they say you will/won’t do Fears and aspirations
Subjective wants Objective needs

Project Management Example

Examples of Interests v. Positions
Project Manager’s position: I want a one-month extension to finish the project.
Project Manager’s interest: Before facing unforeseen obstacles in completing this project on time, she approved the lead programmer’s vacation and wants to demonstrate to her team that she fights for their needs and keeps her word.
Boss’s position: The original deadline stands and you cannot have a one-month extension.
Boss’s interest: Get the project done on time.
Ways to address interests: 1) Boss gives Project Manager discretion to change team members assigned to projects, and extends deadline on another project so that team members can be brought over during the lead programmer’s absence. 2) Approve budget for overtime compensation or additional support.
Result: Project is done on time, without an extension, and the Project Manager keeps her word on approved vacations.

Buy-Sell Example
Buyer’s position: I want the price of the specialty equipment lowered by 10%.
Buyer’s interest: We’re under pressure to stay under budget/improve profit.
Seller’s position: The equipment must sell at full price.
Seller’s interest: To increase market share for the equipment at a profitable price.
Ways to address interests: Seller provides free training (or other value-added services) to Buyer’s mechanics that will result in their more effective and efficient use of the equipment, thereby increasing production time in manufacturing and lowering labor costs for over-time hours by more than the 10% reduction in price; and Buyer agrees to allow seller to publish a report showing the increase in productivity with use of this specialty equipment and the subsequent decrease in over-time labor costs.
Result: Buyer increases profit and Seller has evidence to support increased sales.

Alignment of Interests

Communication during a negotiation involves talking about and listening for the other party's interests. You will use The Negotiator’s Probe to discover interests. But understand that the parties don’t reveal interests – the reasons for their positions – until there is a strong relationship built on trust.

To understand the other side’s interests enough to address them requires:

  • Sincere dialogue,
  • Discovery of perspectives, and
  • Exploration of possibilities.

Progression of Interests: Preparation through Execution
Preparation Understand your interests and research and hypothesize theirs. Take notice of possible alignment of interests.
Information Exchange Probe for their interests, and begin sharing some of yours. Use dialogue, discovery and Probing to learn and appreciate their interests, seeing the opportunities for creating value.
Bargaining All interests are revealed and satisfied. Use dialogue, discovery and Probing to capture value by linking creative options to interests.
Conclude Interests are resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
Execution Interests change over time. Use dialogue, discovery and Probing to secure a re-alignment of interests.

Finding the alignment between the parties’ interests creates value for both sides.

In the negotiations you look for solutions to the other parties’ interests that are

  • low cost to you but high value to the other side, or
  • high value to you and low cost to the other side.

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