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Curiosity: A Negotiator’s Superpower

Keith Stacey
Curiosity A Negotiators Superpower

In a recent article in The Australian Weekend magazine, Nikki Gemmel laments the dispiriting experience of driving through a long (fast) road tunnel: no colour, no sound, no visual stimulation. We have traded the richness of experience for saving time. In Gemmel’s view it’s a poor bargain.


Yes, we get to our destination quickly, but it’s soo mind-numbingly boring!


Curiosity: is the learning spark for small children as they try to understand our bewildering and confusing world. Unfortunately for many, we lose our sense of curiosity and replace it with routine process and certainty.


As individuals, our view of the world often becomes fixed and reinforced by confirmation bias whereby we read only those publications that support our existing views!!! Social media algorithms tailor newsfeeds to match our existing interests, so we stay in our comfort zone and remain stunted.


Gemmel is “mistrustful of those without curiosity. Who never ask questions or doubt; who never seek out the world beyond the safety of familiar borders.”


In summary, such people have stopped learning and are inflexible in their thinking and actions. Of course, such attributes are totally undesirable in a skilled negotiator.


As individuals we should be constantly learning and curiosity is the engine that drives that learning. Curious people have an expansive view of the world, as they understand all things are connected to each other.


The opposite is to think you know everything that you need to know already and trying to understand new perspectives is a waste of time.


So, as negotiators, what might we curious about?


Here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:


Be curious about:


  • The economy and the impact of emerging trends on your business and your clients
  • The other party’s business and the strategies they have adopted for growth and success
  • Your negotiating counterparty - their experience, their interests outside work and their career plans
  • Emerging technologies and how you might incorporate them into your business and similarly what your customers and suppliers are doing
  • The companies you are dealing with, and be aware of their corporate history and culture
  • A range of potential solutions.


Curiosity is the foundation of creative solutions in negotiations that actually create value.


An example of the benefits of curiosity occurred to me recently in a Zoom negotiation which wasn’t going at all well; some tension was developing between the two leaders. (We could all feel it!)


While waiting for others to join the meeting, my colleague noticed a guitar hanging on the wall behind their counterpart. The question was asked, “Tell me about the guitar behind you.” What followed was a detailed explanation of the collection and the passion for collecting.


When the negotiation recommenced, the atmosphere was much warmer and a degree of trust had developed between the two leaders that eventually resulted in a long term agreement that provided mutual gains. (Phew!)


I was reminded of the old saying, ‘it was ignorance that killed the cat, curiosity was framed’.


Happy negotiating!

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