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Active listening tips for successful negotiation, by S. Royer

Stéphane Royer

Ferring /

Doctor DBA, Business Science Institute


In this column, Stéphane Royer develops the following points on the concept of active listening.

Defining objectives as a compass in negotiation

Negotiation is the art of communicating and influencing, with the aim of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. In this process, the definition of clear objectives is universally recognized as an essential element. These objectives serve as a compass, helping to orient and guide stakeholders during discussions, ensuring that they know where they stand in relation to the objective and whether they are progressing in the right direction.

The secret: identifying what's really at stake

However, beyond these apparent objectives, an often underestimated yet crucial element in a successful negotiation lies in identifying the deeper issue at stake. This means going beyond the visible objectives and connecting with the "why" of the negotiation. Understanding your fundamental need, your personal "why", is what determines the long-term success of the negotiation.

The "why" method for digging deeper into the issue at stake

An effective technique for uncovering this deep-seated issue is to ask the "why" question iteratively. By asking "why" repeatedly, until the essential need emerges, we can identify fundamental motivations such as well-being, esteem, security, order, interest, novelty, belonging or fulfillment.

A concrete example

For example, a manager in the aviation sector wanted to negotiate a family vacation. Her initial objective was to spend 10 days seeing polar bears in Finland, visiting fjords and swimming in three-degree water. However, on asking the "why" question repeatedly, she discovered that her fundamental issue was simply to spend quality time with her family, no matter the location.

The impact of connecting to your issue

When you are fully connected to your core need in negotiation, several significant effects occur. First, you identify your non-negotiables, the aspects that can't be compromised because they're linked to your core need.

Secondly, this connection to your deepest need gives you inner strength. You know exactly why you're negotiating and what basic principles you're fighting for.

Finally, by understanding this fundamental issue, you open up the field of possibilities. Unlike a rigid position, which offers little flexibility, an issue offers several paths to reach the destination, thus satisfying your deepest need.

The difference between position and challenge

In a nutshell, a position represents the path you've chosen to reach an objective, while a stake represents the fundamental destination, the underlying need that really motivates the negotiation. Understanding this distinction is fundamental, as it transforms the perspective of the negotiation, widens the possibilities of solution and fosters collaboration by creating a broader common ground.


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