How To Satisfy Needs Over Wants For Negotiation Success

By Bradley Chowles October 22, 2019 | 4 min read

We’ve chatted a fair bit about the ins and outs of negotiation skills on the RED BEAR blog, but let’s quickly take a lesson from a different industry. There’s a common understanding in the world of User Experience (UX) that people can’t be trusted to tell you what they want. For instance, if you ask a group what they want in the design and functionality of a mobile app, they might list all kinds of fancy features and capabilities. But when they end up using their fancier-than-thou application, they inevitably struggle to complete basic tasks and end up uninstalling it in favor of the latest Angry Birds game. To get around this dilemma, UX professionals take an active role in discovering what users want, as opposed to simply taking their word for it.

When you’re in a negotiation, there’s always going to be more to your counter-party’s wishes than initially meets the eye. When they arrive at the table, they’re armed with a rehearsed script of narrow demands that reflect only the surface-level “wants” of their superiors and organization. The thing is, these overly specific requests rarely reflect their underlying concerns, interests, or motivations.

This is why Satisfying Needs Over Wants is so important – and one of RED BEAR’s 6 Principles of Successful Negotiation.

Separating needs from wants

To uncover the other party’s real needs — as opposed to their stated wants — it helps to take a few steps back and consider all aspects of the other party. When doing this, consider who they are as a person as much as their job title or the company they represent.

Here’s a quick tip to easily tell a negotiator’s wants from their needs. Their wants are what they’re asking for — specific, measurable requests that are usually fairly rigid and black and white, like getting your product for a certain price or ordering only a certain number of units.

Their needs, on the other hand, are more closely tied to why they’re asking for what they want. This is far more general and subjective and speaks to their underlying motivations, such as looking good to their superior or managing their personal job security and risk.

Uncovering the other party’s “why”

In an ideal world, prospective customers would be open books: broadcasting their genuine needs for the world to see. Unfortunately, customers in the real world require considerable patience and understanding before their needs come to light. And if you straight up ask someone directly about why they want what they want, there’s a good chance they’ll struggle to put it into words. This is why skilled negotiators know to ask the right questions, listen carefully to their answers, and look for unspoken cues that shed light on what makes the other person tick.

Once you understand why the other party wants what they want, you’ll be in a far better position to minimize meaningful losses while maximizing the value of the deal. For example, let’s say you’re negotiating the renewal of a year-long office stationery contract with the procurement officer at an accounting firm. She’s insisting on a discount over and above your already-reduced rate, which you’re really not in a position to offer her. By the way she’s carried herself through the negotiation, you can tell that she’s trying to assert dominance and hold her ground. You’ve also learnt that she was recently promoted to the position and clearly feels that she’s got something to prove.

With all these factors in mind, you can reasonably conclude that her organization doesn’t need  the discount at all. Rather, your counter-party needs to put on a strong show and maintain appearances for her superiors. With this knowledge in mind, you make a counter offer for the same rate, but include additional  branding options for all the stationery materials. As you have these capabilities in house at minimal additional cost, this is a far more favorable outcome for your organization. What’s more, the procurement officer can walk away feeling proud that her negotiation skills landed a better deal for her organization.

The moral of the story? Identifying underlying needs allows both parties to be more creative and can lead to a true win–win agreement.


At RED BEAR, we’re experts at creating targeted negotiation strategies that can help sales professionals across industries gain a consistent, tangible advantage. To learn more about our approach to helping you and your team develop sharp and effective situational negotiation skills, click here.


Successful negotiations are rarely the result of chance or innate talent. They are, more often than not, the product of meticulous preparation and strategic planning.
As the summer heats up, don’t let your sales and procurement negotiation training melt away. Now is the perfect time to sharpen your skills with some insightful summer reads.

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