02 January

The Best Negotiators Lead with Need

John Lowry discussing his book "Negotiation Made Simple"

Adapted from John Lowry’s Negotiation Made Simple: A Practical Guide for Solving Problems, Building Relationships, and Delivering the Deal

One of the most powerful cooperative tools used by leaders today is empathy. Simply defined, empathy is the process of identifying, sharing, and experiencing the feelings of another person. In recent years, empathy has begun to be recognized as an important business strategy. For example, in 2021, the World Economic Forum published an article titled “Why Empathy Is a Must-Have Business Strategy.” The article argues that empathy increases employee loyalty, drives innovation, and fosters diversity in the workplace. Long before empathy was recognized as a business strategy, it was identified as a critical negotiation strategy that drove the concept negotiation scholars call interest-based negotiation. Let’s explore how empathy can help you make negotiation simple.

Through empathy, your goal is to use what you learn to drive negotiations toward an outcome focused on meeting your needs and your counterpart’s needs at the same time. This is what I call the “lead-with-need model,” which is based around four core strategies—observe, understand, respect, and solve.

  • Observe — How do you observe the people you’re negotiating with to get a deeper understanding of their needs? Are you interrupting a lot and asserting your position? Or are you listening to what they are saying, asking follow-up questions to learn more information, and conveying through body language, words, and later action that you empathize with their needs?
  • Understand — How do you understand the people you’re negotiating with? You may clearly see across the table that your counterpart is very emotional and talking about a particular concern of theirs or relaying something relevant from their past. Your goal is to get your counterpart to explain as much as possible, to understand both the problem and what is causing them to be emotional.
  • Respect — Instead of attacking or discrediting through your words, tone, and body language your counterpart’s position and feelings, your goal is to show through words and actions that you respect their emotions and perspective. You don’t have to agree with it to respect it. By acknowledging it, you can begin to diffuse the adversarial nature of the conversation and begin down a path toward mutual problem-solving.
  • Solve — Ultimately, this strategy is to build toward reaching common ground and a final solution that both sides will be content with. To do this, you need to use the information that you have gained by observing, understanding, and respecting to establish a connection with your counterpart—building trust and common ground toward a final solution. This is also the moment when you can begin exploring ideas for how to solve the problem based on all that you have learned up to this point about the other side’s needs.

By successfully employing the lead-with-need model, you will not only get a real understanding of the needs of your counterpart, but you will transform the posture of the conversation. The whole dynamic of the conversation will pivot from adversaries trying to outmaneuver one another to colleagues trying to solve a mutual problem together. This type of negotiation preserves and, at times, advances relationships.

Take a look at the two images below. In the first image, you see parties on opposite sides of the table. The posture is adversarial. The parties are working against each other. In the second image, you see the parties on the same side of the table with the problem on the opposite side of the table. Here, the parties are not in total agreement because they are not sitting right next to each other, but they are working together to try to solve the problem. The focus is on overcoming the problem, not beating the other side. In addition, the barriers that divide the parties are removed so the parties can be more collaborative and can more easily communicate. The second image is what the lead-with-need model is all about. Working together to solve problems by finding creative ways to meet everyone’s needs.

What if the second image reflected how you engage colleagues at work? Your business would be more successful. What if the second image reflected how you engage clients or customers? You would have more long-term profitable relationships. What if the second image reflected how you engage your family? You would have healthy family relationships that bless your life. This is the model for getting what we want in life!

The "lead-with-need" model will turn adversaries trying to outmaneuver one another into colleagues trying to solve a mutual problem together.

Negotiation Made Simple offers a useful and comprehensive approach to negotiation that can springboard a career or a company, one deal at a time.