In the exploring stage, distinguishing between wants and needs is critical. When you have two negotiators who realize that an opening position is just that—a place to start—you can begin in earnest to discover the needs and objectives of the other party. With an inexperienced negotiator on the other side, you may find this tough sledding. Often, naive negotiators will want to stay with opening positions and engage in an attack-defend spiral. Skilled negotiators will move beyond this and move into exploring. You can actually feel a change in the energy in the room when someone switches into exploring as illustrated by the following dialogue between a supplier and a warehouse manager:
I want a minimum of 10,000 units in each shipment.
Tell me why that’s so important to you.
Well, our warehouse dock schedule is rather tight so we need to handle one or two large shipments rather than several smaller loads.
Once we’ve identified the need (i.e., warehouse accommodation) compared to the want (i.e., minimum of 10,000 units), we can explore the skills of questioning and listening and how to use them in the key task: distinguishing wants and needs. This is where your planning pays off. If you’ve done your needs/objectives matrix, you can ask lots of questions to test your assumptions.
Once you have a better sense of what is underneath the surface, you ...