Interest-Based Problem Solving

Photo by FWC

A fresh approach to resolving issues, which aren’t necessarily deeply rooted, is to apply interest-based problem solving (IBPS) to your conflicts. Instead of fighting out disagreements, the interest-based problem solving model creates an atmosphere to address differences among individuals and groups, according to Julie L. Brockman, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

“In traditional work systems, the authority figures determine the outcomes of issues,” explains Dr. Brockman. “With interest-based problem solving, individuals/groups can find the best solution that meets the interests of the parties through a process of consensus. The group uses this consensus to determine which options will be in the final solution. So, the outcome represents the input from the individuals, and has a better chance of success.”

Interest-Based Problem Solving

  1. Clarify the Problem (WHAT)
  2. Identify the Interests (WHY)
  3. Generate Options (HOW)
  4. Develop Solution through Consensus

Three characteristics of successful interest-based problem solving include:

  • Ownership in Solution: Everyone participates in the problem-solving process and has a voice in the outcome
  • Ease of Implementation: The use of consensus is used to reach a solution, not the power of authority. This makes the solution easier to implement
  • Consistency with Organizational Values and Norms: The values of IBPS are part of a broader change effort and reflected in the organization’s overall values and behavior

“Interest-based problem solvers seek solutions that satisfy the interests of everyone involved,” says Dr. Brockman. “People work together to help everyone win with this approach, and relationships within the workgroup are strengthened as a result.”

Photo by David Kenyon, Michigan DNR

To apply interest-based problem solving to conflicts:

  • Focus on the issue at hand
  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Identify and explore all interests that will help define the issue more clearly
  • Be open to possibilities and opportunities not previously considered
  • Satisfy the interests of all stakeholders
  • Create mutually acceptable decisions and/or recommendations supported by all

As with other skills, learning interest-based problem solving skills and working with a professional facilitator will increase your success with this approach significantly. For more information on this subject, contact Dr. Brockman at

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