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The Iceberg In The Room

One of the first steps to successfully concluding an agreement with someone is to identify what it is they want. As part of your negotiation preparation you have identified what your objectives are, now turn your focus on determining what they want. Studies have shown that skilled negotiators ask three times more questions than make statements. At the beginning of any negotiation our tendency is to want to make statements – we want to get our position out there! However, early positioning may mean giving away valuable information whilst not knowing where your counterpart is coming from.

Making statements does not allow you to gather information. What’s the best way to do that? Ask questions – open questions, which are designed to elicit information; open questions start with the words what, where, how, who, when, which and why. You are attempting to ascertain the “drivers” or needs of your counterpart. Agreements are made when the other side’s needs are met. You often hear negotiators talk about people’s icebergs. We have two levels of needs, stated and personal. Approximately 10% of the iceberg is above the water line – this is where a person’s stated needs are, eg better pricing, faster delivery etc. It’s our hidden or personal needs (below the waterline) which actually are the key drivers to getting an agreement. These personal drivers may include (and not limited to) characteristics like security, reputation, greed, financial incentives (bonus) or arrogance. Once you have an understanding of their needs you can create proposals which match your needs with the other side’s to ultimately get you to agreement.

Your counterpart wants to feel heard and understood. Using curiosity (questions), you can have a fruitful conversation/negotiation. To enhance your skills I recommend the book “Power of Curiosity: How to Have Real Conversations that Lead to Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding” which Amazon top 50 reviewer Doug Erlandson says is a “landmark in conflict resolution”. This book is shows you how to enhance your questioning and listening skills and how to have difficult conversations.

Paul Taberner


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