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Practical Negotiating: Tools, Tactics & Techniques by Tom Gosselin

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Wants versus Needs

When I introduce this concept in workshops, I mention that I cite a number of sources and experts in the field of negotiation, but there is one group who really nailed the concept of wants and needs—Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Usually, this draws a laugh. Then I ask, “What does Mick say about wants and needs?” The participants chorus back the song line: “You can’t always get what you want.”

“Don’t stop there,” I say. “What’s the rest of it?” Again, most know the next line: “But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” As the first step in the planning process, it is essential for the negotiator to understand this distinction and to work through the possibilities. A colleague of mine uses the following story to illustrate the differences between wants and needs:

I got up hungry in the middle of the night and had my sights set on those two pieces of leftover pizza in the refrigerator (the want). I also have a teenage son who eats everything in sight, and lo and behold the pizza is gone. So, I have to get in touch with my need—hunger. I realize I can’t get what I want but, by focusing on the need, I can explore other options such as a sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

Various terms and expressions are used throughout the literature on conflict resolution to describe wants and needs. Wants correspond to the positions both sides take in the conflict, and needs correspond to their respective underlying interests. There is a direct relationship ...

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