What’s My Motivation?

Too often, when negotiating, motivation is overlooked. Your motivation for making a deal and the others parties motivation just might surprise you! Without zeroing in on the “why” of each person involved it’s like flying blind.

Recently I consulted with Steve about a negotiation he was involved in—he was at a loss as to what to do next in a negotiation with one of his customers. He had a meeting scheduled soon and needed advice. We talked about many aspects of the meeting, and I encouraged him to follow up and let me know how the conversation went.

Well, earlier today my phone rang, and it was Steve calling me back about the meeting. “I spent about 6 hours with my customer on Monday,” he said. “It was incredibly eye-opening! I discovered why he had been making so many demands, why he wanted the things he was asking for, and what he might consider accepting from us.”

“He even explained why he had been behaving in such a difficult way—turns out he was just using a negotiation tactic he’d learned. He didn’t actually feel the way he was acting.”

I congratulated Steve on his successful meeting and when I got off the phone began to reflect on the conversation we had last week. There were several reasons why Steve’s negotiation went so well. He acknowledged that the meeting with the customer was one part of a very substantial negotiation. The agreement, when it’s made, could last many years and involve millions of dollars. It needs to be carefully thought out. He also realized that…

1. Understanding the Motivation is Critical

In my conversation with Steve, we began formulating a plan by focusing on the first of our MAP Negotiation guideposts—Know Why. As I questioned Steve about the deal, his relationship with the buyer, and what Steve’s company and the customer both wanted, I began to realize that there were several critical gaps in both parties’ knowledge about the other’s motivation for making an agreement.

Steve’s Motivation

We started with what Steve wanted out of the deal personally. Will this agreement make his sales quota for the year? Is it the kind of highly visible win that could get positive attention inside his company and set him up for advancement?

The Other Party’s Motivation

If this negotiation is successful, what’s in it for the buyer? What’s his why? How is that related to the demand for an investment from Steve’s company that the customer has been so adamant about? What alternatives to direct investment would be acceptable to the customer? What if there were other creative solutions?

The Senior Leader’s Motivation

Since Steve will need to secure some unique terms and possibly some concessions inside his own company, what would motivate the senior leaders in his organization to grant those terms? As is often true in sales negotiations, the seller is actually trying to simultaneously make two agreements—one internally and one with the external customer. It makes for some complex planning.

These topics and more around the concept of what motivates the various parties in a negotiation made up the bulk of my conversation with Steve. He realized that with a deal this large, it made sense to invest a good amount of time in thinking about what everyone might want or need in the deal—not just from a purely business perspective, but also on a personal level.

We also talked about how important personal motivations are, even when deals grow in size. For many negotiators this is counter-intuitive—after all, shouldn’t deals worth millions be the most rational because they are all about the numbers? This has been the subject of many university studies, articles and chapters of books about negotiating.

What the majority of researchers have observed is this: that negotiators are frequently not rational, that they often make huge decisions at a gut level and then rationalize them after the fact. Further, researchers have discovered and that many of the ways in which they will be irrational are predictable. [1]

2. Uncovering Motivations

I encouraged Steve to think carefully about questions he could ask to understand his customer’s motivation and what was driving some of the more challenging demands and behaviors he was manifesting. It would eventually make sense if Steve could uncover enough information—it just might not be rational.

Several of Steve’s questions were answered during the time he spent with his customer. He has a better grasp of the personal desires that were actually driving a lot of their conversations to that point—desires that until Steve understood them were very confusing and had the potential to derail the agreement.

Both parties came away from this meeting with a better understanding of what the other wants, and how they might be able to make a deal. And it’s already looking as though it might not be the deal that either of them originally thought they would make.

I encouraged Steve to take time now to plan his internal negotiation in a similar way—to anticipate the motivations of the leaders in his company and to formulate questions to get clarity around those motivations. Some are likely to be irrational, though.

This will help Steve make progress in what I believe will be a long—but ultimately fruitful—negotiation journey.

What’s your motivation?


[1] Some very useful research is found in Chapter 4, “When Rationality Fails: Biases of the Mind“ in Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman. (New York, Bantam Dell, 2007)

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Bradley Humbles

Bradley Humbles

Bradley has been studying negotiation, successfully using negotiation skills, and facilitating negotiation workshops for more than 20 years. As a small business owner, Bradley understands what it takes to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

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