‘ll admit, fishing for interests rather than taking their negotiating positions at face value feels a lot like playing mind games. On the other hand, if a straight path is taking you nowhere, maybe a less direct one will do a better job.
So when the other side makes a demand or draws a boundary, ask yourself “Why, what are they trying to avoid”. Better yet, ask them to clarify if you can.
If that fails, it’s time to “play detective” and try to piece the story behind the words. Ask open-ended questions using clean language, summarize what you just heard, and highlight any emotions you notice. The idea is to form a hypothesis about the underlying interest expressed in a position, and then validate it by acknowledging it out loud.
If their position was “We want a discount” the interest could be:
– Lacking proof of value – offer a high-priced but short initial engagement, included in the price of the full project launches
– Budget constraints – offer a payment plan
– Risk control – offer performance-based pricing
– Needing an official reason to choose you – offer a guarantee that your work will be applicable without them needing to upgrade other systems.
If we took their position at face value and offered a discount, the result would hurt us more and impress them less than a tailor-made offer. Demonstrating flexibility for their interests changes the conversation.