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What Makes Them Tick?

When I was a kid, I would try to take my toys apart to see how they worked. I was impatient as a child (and in many ways, I still am). That impatience got the best of me many times and I recall a time once where I got so frustrated with not being able to take a toy (a toy robot my parents had saved to buy for me) apart gently, that I went into my dad’s tools, pulled out a hammer, and smashed the toy to pieces trying to get inside to find out how it worked.

That same fascination of finding out what makes something tick, is still with me. But now my curiosity is with people. What makes a person tick? What are their motivations? What do they need and want? Why are they acting the way they are acting? Who are they? All of these questions flood my mind when I talk to someone. I have a curiosity of who the person is (not who they’re trying to to be in a negotiation to shape my perception) and what motivates them.

Now, if I utilized the same extraction techniques I did as a child, I’d likely damage many people and relationships. But thankfully, I’ve learned that there are more tools than just a hammer to get to what makes someone tick and to find out what their motivations are. Some people’s interests and motivations can be accessed fairly easily by popping off a single protective cover and yet others take longer to get to because they are buried below layers of protective armor.

So how do you determine someone’s needs, wants, motivations, and what makes them tick?


You don’t start take anything apart until you know where the access points are. The first questions is ultimately, “Where are the access points?” And for people, some common access points are (not in order):

  • Family
  • Hobbies
  • Passion projects
  • Work
  • Dislikes

Think of access points as big areas of concentration in peoples lives. Where they spend their time, what they spend their time on, and who they spend their time with.


The easiest route of entry for most people is their family. People love to talk about the family and especially their kids. However, depending on the person, they may spend a lot of time at work or on hobbies. Your job is to find out what makes them happiest. Once you find the easiest route of entry, the other access points become significantly easier to enter.


You don’t have to get to their inner most fears right away. Trying to go too fast causes people to go into lock down (culture dependent) and you risk having all access points closed off if you move too fast.


Once you successfully find the easiest route of access, it’s time to probe. Be genuinely curious and let them talk. Ask probing questions to generate additional areas of insight and discussion. Eventually, what you’ll find is that they will bring up other access points in passing conversation. This is a sign that their comfort level is increasing and they are revealing other access points to you. Use those moments to create segue ways to the next access point by asking open ended questions and probing questions about other access points when they come up.


Genuinely listen to what they are saying. You learn nothing by talking. Once you ask the questions, shut up, lean in, and listen.


Once you learn their true needs and wants and determine what actually motivates them, you’ll be able to effectively use those areas to connect them more emotionally to the negotiation because they’ve revealed themselves to you. And once you can shape their emotion, you control the negotiation.


What I’ve just taught you to do makes you significantly more powerful in negotiations because you can access the emotion of the other party any time you want. Don’t abuse that power and use it wisely.

Finding out what makes someone tick is an integral part of negotiation. Especially if you plan on having a long term relationship with the party you’re negotiating with.

There are some that would say, “Who cares! Just get in, get the best deal, and move on.” I get that, I know many of these people. In my estimation, this kind of thinking limits you to one dimension of negotiation and dramatically reduces the likelihood you’ll be able to access all areas of value. So get curious.