Shifting from Positions to Interests

“What is surface conflict, jagged peaks of icebergs facing off with each other, beneath may be joined when we have eyes to see.” – Tilden Edwards

One of the keys to conflict resolution, especially in a complex situation, is the identification of the interests of each party. Shifting from positions to interests is crucial for working toward creative solutions that will work for each person in the conflict.

1. Issue of Concern

The issue is the general topic of the disagreement. It is helpful to name the issue clearly from both parties’ point of view prior to probing for interests. This allows for a more efficient identification of the underlying interests. If you do not identify the issues, you run the risk of receiving justifications for the other party’s position instead of their deeper interests.

2. Position

A person’s position is her/his solution to the issue.
The reason people are in conflict is because the positions they hold address only their own needs.

People can get locked into their positions, often referred to as “becoming positional.” Common motives for becoming positional are the desire to be taken seriously, fear, revenge, and expectations. Becoming positional can also be our historical pattern of reacting to conflict. In making the shift from positions to interests, it may be necessary to first acknowledge the position and then address the underlying issues.

3. Interests

Interests are the underlying wants, needs, fears, hopes, and concerns that motivate us to hold our positions. Interests reflect and are shaped by our values and priorities.

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