Negotiations are structured by the Issues presented, the Positions of the parties and the Interests needing to be satisfied to reach a conclusion. Focusing on Interests, instead of Positions, will open up a range of solutions, not necessarily contemplated, to satisfy the needs of all the parties involved.
Issues are the questions needing to be answered to reach a conclusion. By way of an example; if you are going to buy a car, the issues are questions such as, what brand of car, what model, what dealer, what color, what options and how much should I pay? On the dealer side, it is which vehicles do I need to move, and will garner the highest profits? Without a resolution of these issues, a successful purchase cannot be concluded.
Positions are the "what I want" responses to the issues. I want a red vehicle, I want an SUV, I want it to have a big engine and I want to buy it from the dealer on the corner. These are rationalizations of the issues.
Interests are very straightforward; they are the underlying reasons for your Positions. I want a red car, because it is my school colors, an SUV because I have kids and it's the easiest way to get them around and a big engine because I don't want to feel powerless on the highway and the dealer on the corner, because I like their commercials.
If we focus on the Positions, we are not providing a valid reason for someone to come off what they believe is necessary to satisfy the issues at hand. If we drill down to the interests we are able to open up the range of solutions that are viable and acceptable.
For example; the need for an SUV, may also be satisfied by a station wagon, and with the new more efficient engines, maybe a smaller turbocharged engine, with strong performance, will satisfy the need for power and acceleration. So instead of a large SUV with a big engine, maybe a station wagon, with a powerful but more efficient smaller engine will meet the needs of the buyer. One the other side, the dealer may have a glut of station wagons they need to sell all with the "new" turbo 4 cylinder engine, a vehicle that the manufacturer is providing an added financial incentive to the dealer to sell. Focusing on the interests allows the seller to provide the option of a station wagon to the buyer, allowing for an expansion of the range of solutions that a party may not have even had on their radar, yet will meet the needs of all those involved.
In all negotiations it is imperative to discern what the interests are of the opposing party and your client (yourself), to be able to craft solutions that meet as many of the Interests as possible. I recently had a case where a franchisor was reluctant, actually unwilling, to negotiate a particular "form" document. I was able to discuss and discern from our conversations that their interests were not to utilize a form of the agreement that were not already in use in their system, and to preserve the term of the agreement. I was able to find an older version of the document that satisfied their interest and satisfied my client's needs as well. Without understanding their interest I would not have been able to open my range of solutions and suggest the alternative that was acceptable to all.
Taking the time to learn and focus on the Interests in negotiations, depersonalizes the negotiations, and allows a range of possibilities that will still satisfy the needs of all the negotiating parties.