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Focusing On Interests


Parties in conflict have a natural tendency to think and talk in positions. Positions are statements or demands framed as solutions. Positions often involve incomplete information, hidden agendas, and “bottom line” posturing. Arguing and bargaining using your position leads to impasse or compromise, and rarely leads to creative, win/win solutions.


Underneath the arguments of positions lie interests. Interests are broader than positions. They encompass such things as needs, concerns, and hopes – what Fisher and Ury have called “the silent movers behind the hubbub of poisons.” Interests can arise from substantive, procedural, or emotional factors.

The good communicator’s role: 

Is to try direct the focus away from your position and the other person’s positions and to explore what you are really interested in. Exploring interests helps both persons to develop common solutions. Understanding you own interests unlocks new ideas and solutions. Understanding the other person’s interests can help move the discussion towards solutions which meet needs on both sides. You may also discover that you share many basic interests (e.g., financial security, ending of hostilities, workplace peace)


  • Makea list of the other person’s and your interests, as they surface in theconversation.
  • Reframe locked-in positions as “interests” (e.g., “The dogs have to go! Becomes “You are really concerned about the noisy barking when you are sleeping.”)
  • Ask for more information about why a particular demand is being made, to draw out underlying interests (e.g., “Tell me more about your basic concerns with this,” or, “What matters most here for you?”)

  • Ask for more information about why a particular proposal is not satisfactory,to understand their concerns better.
  • Point out similarities of interests.
  • Test for new solutions which meet each other’s interests and are forward looking.

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