My 15-year-old son recently said “everyone just wants more money” in salary. I disagreed. In fact, I told him, millions of people accept jobs that pay less in order to get more in non-financial benefits, like job satisfaction, time off, flex time, job security, additional responsibility, a better title, extra recognition, health or retirement benefits, an improved work environment, more support, and the list goes on.
Of course, salary is usually very significant, but it’s rarely the only motivation.
So how can you figure out what’s really important to your counterpart in negotiations?
You’ve got to ask. It sounds simple and easy – and it is. Yet many don’t do it. I’m constantly surprised by how much information you can get just with straightforward questions like:
- “What is important to you?”
- “How important is X for you?”
- “Why is this critical for you?”
- “Describe what you want in this deal?”
- “What is your most crucial interest?”
- “Help me understand your priorities.”
- “What else is critical for you?”
Then listen carefully to their answer. The first element in their response is likely most important.
And don’t be afraid to ask these questions multiple times and follow up. You may get different answers that provide context and more comprehensively reflect their priorities.
Also explore your counterparts’ interests underlying their positions. It’s relatively easy to find out what they want. Drill down and find out why, too.
2. Compare, contrast and rank
Sometimes a direct approach won’t get you sufficient information about their priorities. In that case, explore how they compare and contrast their positions and interests. Then rank them.
Let’s say you ask what’s important to them. And they respond by saying ALL their issues are really important. Then ask:
- “Which is more important to you: A or B?”
- “Of these three issues, which is most important?” Then ask “Why?” or “which is least critical?”
- “I know Issues A and B are both critical, but if you were forced to decide, would you rather have more of A or B?”
- “It’s almost impossible for my client to give you A and B, so which would you prefer?”
Keep in mind, you will likely be asked to reciprocate with your priorities. The early part of many negotiations involves information bargaining in which the parties negotiate over information.
And if the situation is particularly collaborative where both parties want a future relationship and there are many issues on the table, perhaps suggest each party write down its own priorities and interests. Then exchange the lists and evaluate how they match up. You might find opportunities to expand the proverbial pie where your stronger interests align with their weaker ones.
Years ago I was helping a client sell his company and his most important interest related to the overall value of the transaction. The buyer, by contrast, cared more about the cash upfront than the equity maintained by the seller. Both parties were relatively open about their interests.
The solution? Less upfront cash to my client and more equity.
3. Evaluate their counters
Of course, some parties may not be transparent or may engage in some bluffing or puffery here. They may try to get you to believe Issue A is really important – even if it’s not – so they can trade it for something of greater value from you. What should you do?
Remember the phrase – actions speak louder than words. In negotiations, what your counterparts do in their moves is more crucial than what they say.
So analyze the changes in their moves. They will be telling.
Latz’s Lesson: Assessing your counterpart’s priorities can be really challenging. So ask, compare and contrast and rank, and remember that actions/counters speak louder than words.
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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He also has two bestselling books Gain the Edge! and The Real Trump Deal: An eye-opening Look at How He Really Negotiates. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.