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Why Zoom In?

Conventional negotiating focuses on the positions of each side, which is what the other side says they want and the concrete stances they take. Many assume that because positions are opposed, the interests must also be opposed. However, in many negotiations, a close examination of the underlying interests will often reveal more interests that are shared or compatible than ones that are opposed.

The power of uncovering interests in impossible conflicts was demonstrated, as William recounts, during negotiations between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh independence movement. The most powerful way to identify basic needs is through curious, open-ended questions that uncover “what” and “how” the other side wants to meet their basic needs.

Practice Zoom In

  1. Ask why five times. Keep asking ‘why’ five times in succession to understand the core interest behind the position.

  2. Uncover underlying interests. Interests are the underlying motivations that lead people to take their position—their needs, desires, concerns, fears, and aspirations.

  3. Dig deep to basic human needs. The most powerful interests are basic human needs, such as security, prosperity, fairness, autonomy, and belonging.

  4. Listen to emotions as signals. Strong emotions like anger, fear, and sadness can be important clues to understanding interests.

  5. Ask “What does the prize look like?” Write down your top 3 interests in your negotiation and put it someplace visible to remind yourself to keep your eye on the prize.

Audio Series


In this episode, we go to Geneva, Switzerland, where William is negotiating between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh guerilla movement. Learn first hand how Zooming In revealed the underlying interests that led to a breakthrough.



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