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I thought that I would start by re-establishing my belief that the only way to really address what the other party wants and needs from you, and for you to get what you want and need from the other party is to talk in the language of interests. Interests are your motivations for the positions you take. For instance, telling a co-worker that you “want this yesterday!” is a position, while the motivating factors are a looming deadline from your boss and incomplete information, all conspiring to prevent you from completing the analysis.

While we were talking yesterday, we discussed how hard it is to talk about your interests or even talk to their interests when the other person is so darn positional. It’s true; it is hard.

There are two keys to success when faced with positional bargainers.

Imagine their interests

I use the word imagine because you really cannot ever know what is motivating another person, department or company. You can, however, make some educated guesses and develop a strategy to confirm whether you are right or wrong.

I suggest two ways to imagine their interests. One, look for information from outside sources, such as the newspaper if it is a company, or talk to colleagues if it is a person or department. There is often a wealth of information right under your nose.

Two, step into their shoes for a minute and think about what you would do if you were in their place. I leveraged my ability to think like a plaintiff (I was always a defense attorney) in order to maneuver clients and opponents, and negotiate great deals. If you were in their shoes, what would you do/think/care about?


Good Questioning Skills

We often think that because we know how to ask questions–start with how, what, where, when or why–we have good questioning skills. In reality, asking good questions is really, really hard. I learned how to ask good questions in the fast paced, raucous world of public defending. I would stand up before the judge with little or no preparation–like reading reports or talking to the client–and have to conduct a preliminary hearing. I would ask witnesses and police officers questions on the fly following their answer with another relevant question. Basically, I felt like I was blindly walking forward trying to stay on course and each question either kept me on course or threw me off course, sometimes way off course. It takes some practice to ask really good questions.

Rather that learning to ask questions by conducting hearings on the fly, I suggest that you incorporate four conditions into your questions. By adhering to these conditions, your questions will likely elicit responses that will move the negotiations forward, i.e. stay on course.

Four conditions for good questions:

  1. Questions should be based on what the speaker just said.
  2. Questions should be open-ended thereby allowing the other person to expand on what he or she just said.
  3. Questions should be related to the point of the conversation.
  4. Questions should be nonjudgmental. In other words, do not insert sarcasm, jealousy or other negative emotions in the question.

Here are two easy to remember questions that are sure uncover interests in any conversation in any setting.

  • “Could you tell me more about . . . ?”
  • “What about . . . is important to you?”

Both of these questions meet all four conditions, meaning that the questions follow up on what the speaker is saying, are open-ended and nonjudgmental, and the questions directly relate to the point of the conversation.

Next time you prepare for a negotiation take a moment to imagine what might be motivating the other party to reach an agreement with you. Then jot down some questions that you need answered and add these two just in case you find yourself at a loss for words.