By Kevin Meyer
After being able to stay grounded the entire month of January, I made up for it in February by being on a plane practically every other day – just a tad busy and hence the lack of substantive posts recently. Although one trip was for a week of R&R on the little tropical isle of Dominica, I already feel the need for another of my famous (or infamous if you ask my wife) last minute jaunts to Kona. At this rate I’ll renew my United 1K status in a couple months, especially after upcoming trips to Japan, China, and Germany. Not necessarily something to be proud of, although it does make travel easier.
But I digress; that has nothing to do with today’s rant. Thanks for your patience.
Most of you know that I’m not exactly a big fan of Harvard’s ivory tower nonsense, and Dan’s post last week was a great example why. However I do subscribe to one of their newsletters that does provide some insight – Negotiation, put out by the Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. There are real world examples, stories, and real Q&A from real readers in the real industry. The focus is… you guessed it… negotiation tactics and methods.
The lead article in their February issue is “Are you asking the right questions?” and provides some simple insight into the raw fundamentals of initial negotiation steps. The very first step?
Negotiators commonly assume that the purpose of querying their counterparts is to find out what they want. When you know what the other side wants, you’ll be able to frame a deal they’ll find acceptable, right? Actually, Bazerman and Malhotra argue, focusing exclusively on what people want can distract you from a more useful goal: finding out why they want it.
Pretty obvious in hindsight, right? But how many of us typically negotiate solely with the exchange of goods and services in mind – without understanding the underlying desires and interests?
Asking “Why?” in addition to “What?” encourages negotiators to reveal the interests behind their positions. By turning a conversation from an exchange of demands to a discussion of interests, you are likely to unearth information that could lead to the discovery of common ground.
Further into the article the author creates an interesting alignment with the classic “five why” method of root cause analysis.
- Instead of asking “Which offer do you like best?” ask “Which offer do you like best, and why?”
- Instead of asking “How can we make this offer more appealing to you?” ask “What are your favorite aspects of this offer, and why?”
Just two of the examples that were cited.
The word “why” is surprisingly powerful – whether you’re diving into the root cause of a manufacturing problem, negotiating a complex deal, or asking your wife for clarification on some strange request. Come to think of it, there might be situations where the best strategy is to simply do and not ask questions.