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Positions vs. Interests


Disciplines > Negotiating > Negotiation articles > Positions vs. Interests

Positions | Interests | See also


Negotiation is often about positions, yet managing interests can be more effective.


A common start point in negotiations is to 'take a position', which usually means having a particular viewpoint and requirements from which there is little movement. Like medieval barons, each player builds a castle and besieges the other. Success is simultaneous defending of your own position and destruction of the opponent's position. It is a fixed-sum, win-lose pitched battle, where key information is about strengths and weaknesses and strategies of attack and defense.

Taking positions, however, has many limitations. Battles can leave you weakened. The vanquished can become secret enemies. What seemed like a good position at the time can turn out to be a poor choice.

In a Fight-or-Flight sense, an alternative to fighting sometimes seems like being friendly and allowing others what they want rather than standing your ground. The substance of the negotiation is given up in return for what is hoped to be a good relationship. Those who bend over backwards will be treated as if that is their normal position, and hence will be taken advantage of again and again.


An alternative is to seek the interests that underly the positions. Ask why any position is taken. Probe for the deeper reasons. Find the underlying needs and goals. 'Why' is a powerful question that uncovers real reasons.

Discovering interests confers many benefits. Positions may still be taken, but now you have many possibilities that can still satisfy interests. Battles may still be fought, but now the loser has choices in defeat to retreat to a lesser position or negotiate a settlement that ends the war. The all-or-nothing, do-or-die approach of positional battles can be also replaced with variable feasts that seek peaceful solutions from the start, preserving the relationship and expanding the pie so both parties can satisfy most of their interests.

See also



Buy Me

Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes, Business Books, 1981

  This is still the classic reference on negotiation, borne out of the Harvard studies of arms-limitation talks between the Americans and the Soviets in the 70s. It almost single-handedly turned negotiation from an aggressive battle of wits into a collaborative exercise that sought the best for both parties. Brilliantly clear and easy to read.



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