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What is the difference between positions and interests?

Positions and needs or interests are often related to each other, but not always. A position is typically (but not always) one way to satisfy an underlying need or interest. By contrast, an interest is a need or want of a stakeholder that can often be satisfied in many ways. Understanding the difference between positions and interests is a key to interest-based analysis because it can lead to many creative solutions that a purely positional negotiator may miss. Positions are often used by negotiators for the following reasons: 1) the position may reflect a negotiator’s preferred way to satisfy an underlying interest; 2) the position may have worked in the past; 3) the negotiator may not have considered other options; or 4) the position is a tactic used by a difficult negotiator to throw you off and keep you from being strategic. With respect to reasons 1-3, positions can often help you understand your counterpart’s underlying interests that drive the position. To confirm such interests, you can ask simple questions, such as “Could you help me understand why you recommend this approach?” When confronted with a position, refrain from responding with a counter-position of your own; to do so keeps you from being strategic and puts you into an act-react mode.