When I got my first job out of grad school, I was exposed to the groundbreaking work of William Ury, one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and cofounder of the Harvard Negotiation Project. I expected him to teach us the machiavellian tricks of deal masters.
What his research of the most successful negotiators found surprised me. It turns out that manipulation is not one of the key skills of a top deal-maker after all. Instead, successful negotiators uncover the interests behind the other person’s position.
In other words, effective deal-makers are curious enough to find the thing behind the thing. They’re looking for the motives behind the other party’s demands. By understanding those motives, top negotiators know they can shape proposals that have a higher chance of getting a deal done.
That’s what any pro listener does. She listens for the thing behind the thing. She’s attentive to the spoken and unspoken motives of the person to whom she’s listening. She knows that giving proper respect to motives is a way of subtly communicating “I have your back.” And helping the speaker feel that makes all the difference to the relationship.