Positions vs. Interests
Positions are things that we decide. Interests are the reasons behind our decisions. As a mediator, it is important to try and identify interests rather than focusing on positions as interests start discussion between participants while positions end it. Positions are solutions to problems, specific and definite, and require justification. It is when we focus on positions that arguments develop. Interests are the reasons behind why a solution is preferred and require explanation rather than justification.
In order to draw out a participant's interests, ask open ended questions to generate more information in storytelling. The more information that is revealed, the less vulnerable people will feel as they will be exposing a universal human need. When people can hear about all this information, it can assist them in reassessing their position.
To get the difference between interests and positions, think about this story:
Two men were quarreling in a library. One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open; a crack, halfway, three quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both.
Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: "To get some fresh air." She asks the other why he wants it closed: "To avoid the draft." After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft. She looked to their underlying interests of fresh air and no draft. this difference between positions and interests is crucial.
- Mary Parker Follett