There is a growing body of evidence that shows that great workplaces – productive workplaces where people enjoy working – are built on trust, respect and good communication.
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One way to do this is by taking an interest-based approach: that is, by focusing on people’s interests. Traditional approaches to workplace issues focus on positions.
A position is a demand or claim for the thing that a party wants. Parties often approach workplace issues with their own pre-conceived position.
Positions only give one solution: the claim or demand itself, or a compromise of that claim. This creates a more adversarial relationship which is more likely to lead to disputes.
An interest, on the other hand, can nearly always be addressed in a number of different ways. Interests are the things underlying any request or demand. Interests are the ‘why’ or the reason behind a request.
Examples of interests versus positions
Michael asks his manager Anna if he can change from full-time to part-time
Michael’s mum is sick and he needs to spend more time at home
The workers at ABC Company want longer tea breaks
Parking restrictions near ABC Company have changed and workers don’t have time to move their cars in their current break times
Management at Fancy Clothes Shop tell staff they will need to work an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day
Management need to comply with new shopping centre rules about packing away shopfront stock displays
In any given situation, the people involved will have one or more interests: sometimes these interests will compete, sometimes they are shared and sometimes they are just different.
Interest-based approaches focus on finding a solution that provides mutual gains. A mutual gain is a solution that serves the interests of both the employees and the business.
While positions can be obvious, interests can be harder to identify. The Commission can help workplaces identify their interests and use them to problem solve, consult or bargain through our free Cooperative Workplaces program.
Interest-based approaches prioritise:
- Open communication and information sharing
- Including people who are affected by decision in the decision-making process
- Building and strengthening relationships
- Collaboration and negotiation
Interest-based approaches regularly lead to:
- Better overall outcomes
- Increased respect and trust between management and employees
- Greater satisfaction and acceptance of decisions from everyone involved
- More durable results and fewer disputes
- Greater problem-solving capacity within the workplace
When to use an interest-based approach
Interest-based approaches can be used any time you have two or more stakeholders with different interests. In a workplace, this is usually management and an employee or a group of employees and their union, but it can also include other stakeholders such as company shareholders and community members.
The approach is particularly helpful for:
Is an interest-based approach right for your workplace?
Interest-based approaches work well in workplaces where employers and employees have a good relationship. However, this is not essential. The essential ingredient is the genuine willingness of parties to give it a go.
Interest-based approaches involve a high level of information-sharing and communication, so trust and respect between the parties is important.
Interest-based approaches are harder when relationships are strained, or if there is distrust between management and staff. However, if there is genuine wish to make things better in the workplace, interest-based approaches can be used to improve damaged relationships.
How to get started
You can start using the principles of interest-based approaches at any time.
- Learn about the interest-based approach by completing our online learning modules on interest-based bargaining, available through our Online Learning Portal.
- Consider our Cooperative Workplaces program, designed to provide support to workplaces that want to try interest-based approaches. A Commission Member will work with you to deliver training and help you facilitate the process. They will also offer guidance and advice as you make the change to using an interest-based approach. The program is free.
- Watch our videos on interest-based conversations, active listening and asking powerful questions.
- Read our guide to active listening and powerful questions.
Read more about interest-based approaches in three key workplace areas:
There, you’ll be able to download our how-to guides to help you implement interest-based approaches in your workplace.