How we bargain our National Agreement is as important as what we bargain. We use an interest-based problem-solving approach. This is a collaborative approach to solving problems that strives to get all parties’ needs met. It also aims to preserve—and improve—workplace relationships and our Partnership. It’s not about “giving in” but rather a process to negotiate differences amicably and reach results that will be lasting and durable.

Traditional, adversarial bargaining usually begins with each side staking out its position. In contrast, interest-based bargaining begins with all parties discussing what their needs are. Both parties work on an issue together, explore options, and find a solution that meets the key interests. That sense of shared ownership smooths the way for successfully implementing the agreement. This approach also opens the door to collaborative problem solving (as opposed to competition or compromise) and leads to creative, mutually beneficial solutions.

Interest-based bargaining works best when there is shared information, focus on key issues, active listening, openness to options and a sense of mutual trust. This will be the fourth National Agreement that Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions negotiate using the interest-based bargaining approach. In the past 10 years, we’ve found that this approach addresses the needs of union members and helps the organization improve performance—ultimately benefiting our health plan members and the communities we serve.

Jump to interest-based bargaining FAQs.

Maybe You’ve Had This Conversation…

Over breakfast one morning, your partner says, “We should move to Colorado.” And you wonder to yourself, “Where did that come from?”

You ask, “Why should we move to Colorado?”

“We’re in a rut,” he says. “We’ve lived our whole lives in the Midwest, I’m tired of it. I’m bored.”

So you ask, “What else appeals to you about Colorado?”

“The weather is horrible here,” he says. “Colorado gets lots of sun, and it’s warmer in the winter. People are more active there. There is so much to do. We can ski, backpack, hike, and bike whenever we want to. We’ll have more adventure. We’ll be drawn to the outdoors.”

Your partner’s position is clear: he says he wants to move to Colorado.

But what are his interests—the motivations, the concerns, the needs—that are leading him to state that he wants to pack up and move hundreds of miles away?

It sounds like he wants a change, better weather, and a more active lifestyle. The two of you could meet all those interests by moving to Colorado. But there are also lots of other ways you might get those interests met. Maybe by moving to some other state. Maybe exploring more outdoor activities right in your town. Or any number of other options that you might discover together as you negotiate this issue.

Furthermore, you might have some interests – you might share the interest in a warm climate.  You might not care so much about activity; but you are interested in the arts.  There are probably options that you can brainstorm together that would meet both of your interests, shared and separate.

This breakfast conversation illustrates the difference between traditional bargaining and interest-based bargaining, which is the process Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are using in negotiations this year, as they have for the past 10 years.

Instead of starting with positions (move to Colorado), you start by identifying separate and joint interests.  Then, you brainstorm options to meet those interests.  The process brings you together, generates more creative options, and ultimately leads to better decisions.

The Difference between Position and Interest

Traditional bargaining focuses on the parties staking out positions, or their proposed solutions to issues. Positions tell us what people want but not necessarily why they want it. Interest-based bargaining (as its name suggests), focuses on interests—the concerns or needs behind an issue that must be considered in reaching a solution. An interest tell us what is important to people.

Negotiators Position:A proposed solution to an issue Interest: Concern, motivation, or need behind an issue
Spouses Put 5% of income in 401(k) A comfortable retirement
Parent and child Lights out at 9:30p.m. on weeknights Be well rested for school the next day
Frontline workers and managers No one gets Christmas week off Adequate staffing during holidays

The Four Steps of Interest-Based Bargaining

  1. Define the issue
  2. Identify and discuss interests
  3. Develop options
  4. Craft a solution

Interest-Based Bargaining FAQs

Q. What is collective bargaining?

A. Collective bargaining is the process used by an employer and a union to resolve issues ranging from wages and health benefits to hours and working conditions. The result is a legally binding contract that clearly describes employees’ rights and benefits.

Q. What is interest-based bargaining (IBB)?

A. IBB is an approach to collective bargaining that focuses both parties on resolving issues rather than staking out “hard-line” adversarial positions. Interest-based bargaining is a collaborative process focused on finding a solution that meets the key interests of both parties. It is also sometimes referred to as interest-based negotiations (IBN).

Q. What does “position” mean?

A. A position is a proposed solution to an issue. It tells us what people want, but not why they want it.

Q. What does “interest” mean?

A. An interest tells us why an issue is important to one or both parties. Interests reveal the needs, concerns and goals of the parties.

Q. How can you tell if an interest really is an interest, as opposed to a position in disguise?

A. If it’s an interest, there should be more than one way to address it.

Q. What do negotiators do when they are confronted with a position masquerading as an interest?

A. They try to get to the interests that underlie a position by listening carefully and asking the right questions.

Q. Why use interest-based bargaining?

A. IBB allows full discussion of difficult or complex issues, promotes creative solutions, reduces confrontation, creates ownership in and support of the results, and builds a closer working relationship.

Q. What are some key tools to use in IBB?

A. Some of the key tools and techniques used in IBB include active listening, idea charting, brainstorming and consensus decision making.

Q. How does IBB work?


  1. The parties describe and define the issues and/or the problem to be resolved.
  2. Each party identifies its interests in the issue—and explores the interests of the other party.
  3. With a shared understanding of all the interests, the parties create options or potential solutions to satisfy as many of the interests as possible.
  4. The “key interests” of the parties are often the criteria that work best to determine which options can be used to build a solution. Then, the parties integrate or craft these options into a comprehensive solution, concluding the process.

Q. What happens when parties in a dispute focus on positions?

A. By focusing on positions, parties in a dispute see only a predetermined way to solve a problem, and therefore spend more time staking and defending extreme positions rather than dealing with the heart of the matter. Such focus leads the parties to settle with a compromise rather than getting what they really need, and that risks permanent damage to ongoing relationships.

Q. What happens when parties in a dispute focus on interests?

A. By focusing on interests, parties in a dispute move away from contending positions to promote mutual education, develop a cooperative atmosphere and encourage consideration of multiple options and creative solutions.

Q. What are other key differences between traditional and interest-based bargaining?

A. In IBB, the parties share the costs of facilitators instead of the chief negotiator (not a costly process). More time might be spent with IBB, but it can be more productive.

Q. How do you develop an interest-based bargaining strategy?

A. You develop an interest-based bargaining strategy by believing in the productivity and potential of the group, committing to solutions based on principle, being trustworthy and focusing on the merits of the problems.

Q. What are some key mistakes in IBB?

A. Key mistakes in IBB include:

• lack of participant training;

• thinking IBB takes less time than traditional bargaining;

• no coordination between internal and public communications; and

• the “real” power/decision makers are not at the table to commit to the solution.

Q. What are the secrets of successful interest-based bargainers?

A. Participants in successful interest-based bargaining

  • Focus on the issue, not the personality;
  • Share information;
  • Listen actively;
  • Work hard to meet interests, not sell positions;
  • Are open to options;
  • Look for ways to build trust; and
  • Strive for consensus.

Q. How do you know when a group has reached consensus?

A. When everyone has been heard, everyone understands the solution, everyone can live with the solution, and everyone will actively support the solution.

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