During negotiations, asking the other party to explain the rationale for a proposal from your perspective can provide key insights to help you gain a better deal.
In modern negotiation theory, we emphasize that you need to focus on interests not positions. Focusing on positions is often rigid; the other side needs to accept the position or decline it. When you focus on interests, it allows for a range of options to meet that goal, creating the opportunity to find mutually acceptable solutions. (This is covered in more detail in chapter 9 of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You.)
One problem is that, much like poker players, many people don’t want to reveal their hand. They fear that sharing their true interest may give you too much insight into their bottom line or other lower limits of what might work for them and weaken their bargaining position. Although it might not always be the case there are plenty of times it is true. This is why negotiations can be a bit like a dance, instead of a direct walk.
While parties are unlikely to reveal details of their own position, they may be less guarded in sharing their thinking about your side. When a solution is proposed, it’s always helpful to ask their reasoning behind the proposal. Again, they may not share it, fearing that they would show too much of their hand. A fallback question with smaller scope would then be to ask them why they see this valuable to you, just from your perspective, if not from theirs.
The answer will yield insight into how they see you and your values. You may find, for example, that they consider one of the elements of the deal to be very important to you. That element may or may not actually be important to you. If it’s not, then you can trade against gains on that element knowing it will be seen as giving up higher value than it actually is for you. If it is, then you know that they know the importance of this element for you in any deal under consideration.
There are many ways to phrase this question such as, “Can you walk me through how you think I should evaluate this?”, “How do you see your proposal achieving my needs?” or more indirectly, “How would you see me selling this proposal to my manager?” Obviously, tone and surrounding language can have those statements be more confrontational or collaborative.
It might even help an inexperienced negotiator think about options from your side. Good negotiators do this, inexperienced ones don’t, but should. Having this additional perspective can help them craft better solutions that can help improve the outcome for everyone.
The most important tools when negotiating are strategic. They involve research, planning, and intentionality with proposals. Emotional manipulation, positional gambits, and other games are usually, by themselves, not going to be as helpful, especially against experienced negotiators. Still, tactics like this one have their uses, and this is one that could come in handy from time to time.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.