The Important Difference Between Needs and Wants: A Guide to Action

I once had dinner with a most unusual woman.  Her name was Charlene, the world’s most famous marriage broker.  Charlene was a wise lady who knew a lot about life, love and negotiating.

She taught me the difference between wants and needs.  When single men and women came to her seeking help in finding a marriage partner, she asked them what they wanted.  All of them specified a long list of personality and character traits as well as social and sporting interests which they wanted in their prospective spouse.

When I asked Charlene if she met their specifications, she responded by saying, “My job as a marriage broker is to listen to what they want and then discover what they need.  When I give them what they need, they forget about what they want.”

I thought about it.  Was Charlene being cynical?  I don’t think so.  What she was doing was what we try to do when we negotiate.

In any fairly complex transaction, both parties start with all kinds of demands they would like to have met.  Some are needs and some are wants.  Needs, according to one of Webster’s definitions, are an urgent requirement for something essential that is lacking, something that is indispensible to a particular end or goal.  Charlene explained that few of her clients’ lists of wants were indispensible, most were just nice to have.  It’s much the same in negotiation, where our job is to discover what the other side says they want and what they really need.

If we can give the other party what they need, they will forget about many of the wants or demands they asked for at the beginning of the negotiation.  That’s when both sides move toward agreement.

The negotiator who understands the subtle difference between needs and wants knows what to listen for at every stage of the bargaining process.  He or she moves the parties toward an intersection of their mutual interests-an agreement that best suits their needs, not their wants.

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