Negotiation: Why Times 5

February 13, 2013

There’s an old negotiating story about two sisters arguing (negotiating) over the one remaining orange in the house. Each one wants it and is not willing to split it in half.

The moral of the story, and the point of this post, is the importance of the question, “Why?”  So, in the orange negotiation, “Why do you want it?”

It turns out that in the case of the two sisters, one wanted the zest for a recipe and the other wanted the juice. For those unfamiliar with oranges, this means that they both could have received exactly what they wanted: A de-zested (zestless?) orange still has all of its juice.

Most negotiation in real life isn’t that simple, and (unfortunately for those who spent money on the book by the title) it’s generally not win-win.

But that doesn’t lessen the importance of the simple question, “Why?,” in negotiation. In fact, I suggest that you use the rule of “Why times 5,” asking and re-asking to drill down until you can identify what your negotiating opponent is really after – it is usually not facially apparent. Once you know the real “why,” it’s much easier to offer a real solution, one that’s perhaps totally acceptable to you.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be 5 “whys,” it can be 12. Or, it can be 3. The point is to ask.

For example, in a negotiation, the opposing side demanded a fixed payment in respect of licensing a product they had developed. We wanted to pay a percentage based on sales. Why did they want the fixed price? “Because it’s easier?” Why is it easier? “There’s no accounting involved?” Why is accounting a problem? “It takes time and effort.” We then offered a transparent reporting system with open access and agreed to bear the price of monitoring. They accepted and we got our percentage deal.

Have trouble getting this? Why?

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