Skip To The Main Content
Motives

Motives

You will negotiate successfully if you are well prepared mentally and content-wise. Analyze your negotiating partner in detail to understand the motives behind their demands.


When preparing a negotiation, it is important for you to analyze the motives of your negotiating partner – keep questioning what drives them during the negotiation. The motives of your negotiating partner, whatever their position, are the things they need or they are worried about.

The famous Harvard example:
Two children are fighting over an orange. One of them wants the peel to bake a cake, the other one the fruit to make juice. Each of the children insists on their position: “I want the orange!” Finally, they agree to share the orange. But both had underlying motives that would have been better satisfied if one child had received the whole fruit and the other the whole peel.
Thus, you should not concentrate on positions during your preparation - neither the position of your negotiating partner nor your own. Avoid formulating rigid requirements. If you have your position in mind, you will likely formulate demands that express a certain limit. As soon as your counterpart are faced with a demand that sets a limit, they will emphasize their position even more and communicate their own limit in return. Before you know it, you are engaged in a trench fight whereby both sides insist on their respective position. Such a power struggle puts the relationship between the negotiating partners under great pressure.

 Motive 1

Talks about prices often follow these lines. The customer demands a limit in the form of a minimum discount and the salesperson sets a limit in the form of a maximum discount. At some point, the two of them will end up somewhere in the middle.

If you are unsure whether you are dealing with a position or a motive, check whether there is more than one satisfactory solution. If there is only one possibility, it is a position. This would be the case, for example, if a customer demanded a 20 percent discount from you. If they say they want to buy the goods at a good price, that would be a motive. In this case, you could lower the price or improve the product or service. The real work starts once you have identified a motive - it will be one of your main tasks to analyze the motives that remain hidden.

For example:
A kidnapper has abducted a woman and barricaded himself with her in her apartment. He calls the police and demands a ransom of one million euros and an escape vehicle. Assuming that you are conducting police negotiations with the kidnapper, how would you proceed? The apartment is surrounded, the neighbors have been evacuated, snipers have taken position on the surrounding roofs ready to intervene. What strategy would you use for this hostage-taking? You will likely try to gain time and build up a relationship with the kidnapper. That is fine, but what questions are you going to ask the kidnapper, what information do you need? Will you try to reduce the amount of the ransom or negotiate the type of escape vehicle? The key question is: why did he kidnap the hostage? Does he really want money and drive away in a fancy car? What are the motives behind his position?

The real-life version
This was a real case and it turns out that the kidnapper’s girlfriend broke up with him, telling him he was not a “real man.” He was forced to prove to his ex-girlfriend that he was a real man after all. Real men are strong and have everything under control. Therefore, he decided to take a hostage. What the offender really wanted was to be recognized by his ex-girlfriend, to get her affection and attention. What would have happened if the ransom and the escape car would have been negotiated? The negotiation would have been about the wrong thing. The kidnapper demanded what he wanted but he did not say why he wanted it. In the end, a telephone conversation with his ex-girlfriend, arranged by the negotiating team, provided the recognition he craved. 

It is always about the satisfaction of motives

Every negotiation starts with a motive. All participants have motives they want to satisfy in a negotiation. If the motives of the other side are recognized and taken into account, a transition from a pure distribution struggle to a mutually advantageous agreement is possible. The negotiation is thus broadened from one topic (such as the ransom) to several topics (the motives). For such an exchange to work, both sides need to bring their wishes to the table - either genuine ones or especially created for this occasion.

Needs and motives are determined by means of detailed preparation, close observation and clever questions, before and during the negotiation. The motivation of the kidnapper was not obvious at first sight. In other types of negotiation, the most important motives may often have no visible connection with the negotiation itself and must therefore first be put into the right context.

Everybody has motives. According to the pyramid created by Abraham Maslow (1954), a representative of Humanistic Psychology, every human being has basic needs and, resulting from those needs, certain motives.
Motives engl.

A higher level of the pyramid will only be reached when the needs of the immediately lower level have been met to some extent. The needs that have been fulfilled lose their influence on a person’s behavior. According to Maslow’s pyramid, the level of the pyramid a person currently is on is a decisive factor behind a person’s motivation.

The basic physiological needs of eating, drinking and sleeping (the experts still argue whether sex is a basic need) are covered in the case of most of our negotiating partners.

The second level, according to Maslow, is the need for safety. This concerns reducing people’s fear of an uncertain future. Of course, this does not mean that every person strives for a life without risk. Everyone has a different idea of how much risk is acceptable for them. Once this personal risk limit is exceeded, safety becomes a major motivation. Translated into the concepts of daily life, this level relates to a secure income and the security of one’s job.

If the need for safety is fulfilled for the foreseeable future, the third-level of motives in Maslow’s theory concerning the social environment comes into play. Everyone wants to connect with other people, to experience love and belonging, to be accepted by others. Simply belonging to a group is an important motive that we all pursue – whether consciously or unconsciously. Even loners usually want to belong to a group, usually to a very small group of other loners.

The next level after becoming part of society is the pursuit of a prestigious role. Recognition as a human being should be followed by recognition for one’s achievements and abilities. Respect, status, a good reputation – the goals at this level have many names, but they all have one thing in common: recognition by others increases one’s own self-esteem. We feel better when we succeed and are promoted, can afford a new car or a larger apartment. A higher income is therefore almost never used for the realization of levels 1 and 2, but for the satisfaction of the motives on levels 3 and 4.

At the top of the pyramid we find similar personal motives, which no longer refer to society, but exclusively to ourselves. The reference point is no longer the group, but our own potential. At this level of motivation, a person strives for self-fulfillment and self-actualization, wishing to achieve everything that they trust themselves to achieve. The motives at this level are very different from person to person. They range from owning a yacht to living as a monk in a Tibetan monastery. But they all have one thing in common: they correspond to that person’s goal in life and considering these goals is therefore extremely important to understand a person’s motivation.

Analyzing the true motives of your negotiating partner

We think that  it is of enormous importance to analyze the actual motives of our negotiating partners.

For example, one of your employees is asking you for a ten percent salary increase. Now it is up to you to analyze the motives behind this position - put yourself in their shoes. If you think of the five levels of Maslow’s pyramid, the same demand may lead to five different reactions.

Self-recognition - To have more autonomy at work
Recognition - A bigger office, a bigger company car
Love/Belonging - To be part of a key workgroup
Safety - To be offered company insurance
Physiological needs - To be granted a salary increase

Preparation checklist

The analysis of these motives requires a structured and targeted approach. The following questions will help you in this:

• Who is interested in the result on my side?
• Who is interested in the result on the “other side”?
• What motives do I have?
• What motives will the other side have?
• What are the motives of the people who are interested in the result?
• Why do I have these motives?
• Why does my negotiating partner have these motives?
• What benefits does my negotiating partner expect?
• What benefits can I provide to them?
• How can I increase the benefit for me?
• How can I increase the benefit for my negotiating partner?
• What am I willing to give up?
• What time frame do I have for the negotiation?
• What are the deadlines?
• What are the formal prerequisites necessary for the agreement?