The Interest-Based process includes the following steps in a joint problem-solving process:
  1. Identify the Issue  Each party state the problem as they see it. Note differences about what the parties as the reason they disagree.
  2. Identify the Interests – Why is it important to reach agreement? What is the benefit of agreement, and what happens if there is no agreement?
  3. Brainstorming the Alternative Solutions  The parties jointly identify all the possible solutions to the issue. No evaluation of the alternatives at this point.
  4. Jointly Establish Criteria for Evaluating the Alternatives – with the alternatives out of sight, the parties jointly establish the criteria that will be used to evaluate the alternatives. Example: “Financial feasibility”.
  5. Evaluate and Rank each Alternative based on the Criteria that are Established. Parties, working together, evaluate each alternative, using the criteria established. The alternatives are ranked, and selection is identified.

Most commonly, negotiations and dispute resolution commences after the parties have already evaluated their interests, and decided the course of action or the position they need to be in to protect their interests. This does not take the other party’s interests into consideration, so it’s not surprising that this type of negotiation or dispute resolution results in conflict.

If the parties back up a step, and meet before they take the step from ‘interests’ to the ‘course of action’ or ‘position’, there is a much higher likelihood that the parties will be able to fashion a course of action or position that is acceptable to the interests of both parties.

A simple example illustrates the difference.

Consider two families who decide to take a vacation together. If each family plans the ‘dream’ vacation independently, what’s the likelihood that the two versions of this ‘dream’ will be compatible? Not very likely. However, what if the families get together one Saturday and talk about their interests – what they want to get out of a vacation – and they follow the five step process above? The outcome will be much more agreeable to the combined two families.

This example spotlights the simple truth that expresses itself in a variety of negotiating and conflict resolution forums – labor relations, contract negotiations, property selection, picking a health care insurance provider for your company, and so on. This truth results in more agreement, less conflict, and the opportunity for potential opponents to work together constructively.