At People Based Solutions we believe that negotiating is a key skill for life and work. However, some people approach negotiations less effectively than others.  Research has shown that those who focusing on interests when negotiating, are more productive than those who choose to defend positions. The purpose of a productive negotiation is not to successfully defend your position, but to effectively meet your needs…


Positional negotiation is when each party takes a position and argues for it.   For example, a team member may make a request to take a day’s leave; the Manager may refuse to agree the leave request.  In such circumstances, they may both choose to adopt positions.  The team member stating “you can’t refuse my leave request just like that….” To which the manager may retort: “I am responsible for staffing this office, and I want you in on that day.” Once this process starts, they can lock themselves in.  As the dispute continues, it becomes harder for each change their stance. They can then start to invest in that position.

If this happens, it can become about saving face, and reconciling future actions to past positions.  Reaching a settlement becomes increasingly difficult. Once this process starts, it becomes about winning the argument, rather than finding an outcome that both parties want.  People start to change their goals to save face, avoid embarrassment, win the argument, or to punish the other party.  They will push hard, making the argument stronger than they actually believe it is, and doing anything to win.  The objective shifts from trying to agree leave, to trying to win an argument.


Interests are the needs, desires concerns and fears of the disputants. What they really want, the need that will be satisfied. In the example above the interest being met by taking a days’ leave maybe to enable the team member to attend a family event. The Manager’s interest maybe to have the office covered.  It may be  particularly important to the Manager that the office isn’t without cover even for a relatively short period.


When both parties had taken positions, i.e. they decide to act in a particular way. For example, the team member may demand leave to attend the family event. The manager, however, may respond by refusing even to consider the leave request as it interferes with the office rota.  The outcome of both parties taking their positions is conflict. What emerges is a dispute over positions, which, on the face of it, appears intractable.

One party cannot get what it wants, unless it is at the expense of the other.  If the leave is granted the rota is no longer in place.  If the rota is in place the employee can’t attend the family event. It is a zero sum negotiation, for one party to get what it wants; the other party must forgo what it wants. It is a quintessential win-lose encounter.


However, if both parties focus on their interests, they can identify what they really want.   The objective shifts from winning the argument, to seeing if there is a way for the team member to attend the family event, and to make sure the office is covered.  By moving away from positional negotiation, and moving towards interests based negotiations, those involved in the negotiation, can adopt a collaborative approach to solving the problem.

In positional negotiations, the assumption is, it’s a choice between getting the result you want and keeping a relationship.  Positional negotiations don’t consider the option of achieving both.  When the negotiation is driven by interests, collaboration becomes possible, as the disputants seek mutually satisfactory outcomes. This win-win approach allows for solutions that meet the underlying interests of both parties.  A win-win solution, not only solves the problem, but does so in a way that is satisfactory to both parties.

In the example above, the manager and the team member may work together to agree an outcome that meets the needs of both parties.  A solution such as rescheduling rotas, or swapping shifts, that allows the team member to take the leave day (while accepting the manager’s right to operate the rota), and for the manager to ensure the office is covered.

This article has been posted by Sean McCann, the Managing Director of People Based Solutions an HR consultancy specialising in developing emotional intelligence at work, team building, and workplace conflict resolution. If you would like to know more about how we can help you develop an assertive approach to workplace differences by:

  • Ensuring your managers are skilled with people
  • Helping you to recruit people who have an assertive approach to conflict and difference
  • Helping you to develop a culture where differences are acknowledged and addressed courteously
  • Train your managers to handle conflict effectively
  • Delivering workplace mediation


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