Understand Motivations: 9 Key Words to Get You Anywhere

The key to getting anything done in business or otherwise is first understanding someone’s motivations. When dealing with any personality type – whether you feel you can develop a great rapport with someone (which I almost always feel I can) or not – there are nine magical key words that will help you get nearly anything you want accomplished:

What do you need to get out of this?

…precisely that. What do you need to get out of this ________ (fill in the blank)? Meeting. Exchange. Deal. Project. Group. Team. Year. Month. Week. Whatever it is, getting someone to answer that one simple question works 99% of the time. Why? Because everyone has motivations in a situation. Everyone has their own agenda they’re working on. They’re own urgent and important needs. They may even potentially seem to conflict with your own needs, but if you can both answer that question – what do you need to get out of this and what do need to get out of this, you’re bound to find that Venn Diagram space in the middle where you can mutually benefit each other.

The next time you’re encountering a potentially difficult situation where it doesn’t seem like anyone’s budging, do this:

  1. Pull those magic words out. What do you need to get out of this?  “John, I know we don’t seem to be getting anywhere on this but I want to ask you a seemingly simple question. What do you really need to get out of this?”
  2. Now, LISTEN. Hush for a moment and really listen to what they’re saying. You want to encourage them to be as brutally honest and vulnerable with you as possible – because until you get to the real motivation, you’re not going anywhere. In the spirit of a great listener, make sure you really understand it. Paraphrase it back to them. “So what I hear you saying is X. Is that right?” You might be surprised by what you hear. Potential motivations: They  may be dealing with a demanding boss. Perhaps they have pressures on them that are forcing this issue which you care about to the back burner. Maybe it’s actually that they don’t understand something and need help but are to0 ashamed to ask. It could be some personal recognition or credit for an idea or project (sometimes you have to read between the lines to see that and be careful with your responses to preserve their ego, so to speak). Whatever it is, your goal is to get to the right answer (if possible) by really listening and asking pertinent questions.
  3. Express what you need. “Now that I know what you need – and thank you for sharing that – let me tell you what I really need and why.” When sharing, be just as vulnerable with them as they were with you. Be truly honest about what it is that you need to get out of this.
  4. Figure out a way to help each other both get what you need. “So it looks like you need X. I need Y. If you’ll help me with X, here’s what I can do to help you get Y.” It seems really simple, but now, magically, you’re helping each other get what you really need.

Motivations are magic. Realize it and use it.


Do you have any great tips for compromise and negotiations? Tell us about them.

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