Skip to main content
Geosciences LibreTexts Reframing- Moving from Positions to Interests

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)


    It's crucial to understand that each person, or group, has multiple interests. Some will overlap and others will conflict. When we focus on positions, there is only one solution. However, when we focus on interests, you can discover multiple solutions. That is really how you can start to make a breakthrough in helping people find common ground. Those multiple solutions might meet one or more interests of the different parties. Take a few minutes to watch this video to gain a better understanding of how to reframe before moving on.

    Mediation skills: reframing (3:44)

    When reframing, we are trying to help people move from their fixed, intransigent positions to discovering and articulating their interests. One of the classic examples of distinguishing positions from interests is from Fisher and Ury’s book, Getting to Yes.

    Consider the story of two men 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,” he replies. She asks the other why he wants it closed. “To avoid the draft,” he answers. After thinking a minute, she opens a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

    Although this example is simplistic, it illustrates how a third party can help people reframe the issue. That is, by shifting the focus from their position (what should be done) to their interests (their underlying concerns), you can come up with a solution that satisfies both.

    Disagreement about opening a window
    Position Interest Solution
    Person A Open Window Wants fresh air Open a window in the next room
    Person B Close Window Does not want a draft Open a window in the next room

    Another example is from a case study of how a mediator facilitated land-use planning on Vancouver Island (in John Forester’s book, Mediation in Practice). There were many stakeholders involved in deciding how to use land on the island, including governmental representatives; environmentalists; people from forestry, mining, agriculture, and tourism sectors; employers; companies; First Nations groups; and so on. They were at an impasse. The position of several sub-groups was that they wanted 29% of the land to be protected. The negotiations had a breakthrough these sub-groups were able to articulate that what they really cared about was making sure that the protected areas were contiguous, rather than scattered around the island. Once they moved from the 29% position to the contiguous protected areas, they were able to come up with a solution that satisfied multiple parties.

    One example of positions versus interests on issues related to Marcellus Shale is a statement such as, “I don't want drilling in my community.” That's a position. But an underlying interest might be, “I want to have places to hunt and fish.” Another position might be, “Drilling will create jobs.” The interest here might be, “I'm worried my kids won't be able to find work.” When we focus on what people really care about, like having places to hunt and fish or being able to find work, it opens up possibilities for finding multiple solutions.

    Disagreement about drilling
    Position Interest Solution
    Person A Drilling will ruin the environment. Wants places to fish and hunt Find ways to ensure that wildlife and land are protected.
    Person B Drilling will create jobs. Does not want children to move away to find work Find ways to strengthen the local labor market.

    There are particular kinds of questions you can ask that will help people articulate their interests. First, don't ask for their proposed solution. Instead find out what they care about. Essentially what you want to do is ask “Why?”—but without using that exact word. You're not asking for justification of their position, like, "why do you feel that way?" This isn't an accusatory kind of question; rather, you're probing for the needs, hopes, fears, and desires that are behind, or underneath, their position. Maybe they're worried about providing for their family or disrupting the quality of life in their community; maybe they are attached to their land that's been in their family for generations, and so forth. A few questions you can ask to help people move from positions to interests include the following:

    • What concerns, worries upsets, bothers, or frustrates you about______? (Example: the rig on your neighbor's property)
    • What is your basic concern in wanting______? Example: drilling banned or your land leased
    • What do you fear might happen if ______? Example: Gas companies are not testing water before drilling.
    • What do you hope will happen if ______? Example: Truck traffic is restricted.
    • What do you really care about?
    • What is important to you about ______?
    • What will your solution help you accomplish?
    • What leads you to believe that your solution will get at what you need?

    This is what we call reframing. An example of a position question is, "How much of the land will be available for drilling?" This question can only have an answer that is a number: 2/3, 15%, 60%. That is a very narrow solution. An interest question is more open-ended. For example, "What kind of zoning would help us create jobs, while preserving the quality of our streams and water supply?" In this instance, you're not asking for a fixed number, you're talking about rules for zoning or other land use issues and so forth. The focus here is on meeting the underlying needs of all parties. The questions that you ask in a mediating position can help people get past their articulated solutions to looking at their underlying interests.

    Position → the solution you have decided upon → one solution

    Interests → the underlying motivations, hopes, concerns, desires, worries that led you to your position → multiple solutions

    “Interests motivate people; they are the silent movers behind the hubbub of positions. Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what cause you to decide….Behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests, as well as conflicting ones." (Fisher & Ury, p. 41) Reframing- Moving from Positions to Interests is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Marcellus Matters via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.