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Negotiation Frame Equation 1: Curiosity > Ego

During a Lex Fridman podcast, Lee Cronin, the brilliant professor and artificial intelligence expert gave us our first Negotiation Frame Equation, which in this case is not an equation but an inequality: Curiosity > Ego. Professor Cronin comes across humble, but admits he possesses a good-sized ego (as you might expect from such an expert), "but my curiosity is bigger than my ego."

Wow! Wouldn't that also be a good frame of mind when entering into a negotiation? If we boost our curiosity, or lower our ego (or both), we will likely avoid clashes that can derail a negotiation and instead put and keep us on track for a successful outcome.

For example, a potential buyer says they can't afford your asking price of $27,000 for the used Toyota Camry you're hoping to sell. If your ego is equal to or larger than your curiosity, you'll be tempted to defend the quality of the car, maybe pull out the "Blue Book" and show that you're asking for a fair price. But if instead, you express genuine curiosity (first by asking yourself, "I wonder why can't they afford the $27,000?"), you might learn that the seeming price objection has nothing at all to do with the quality of the Camry or any ideas around fairness, You won't know unless you ask. And if you do ask, you might learn in this case, it's actually all about timing of a bonus or a pre-approved loan amount, or any number of other reasons the buyer may say they "can't afford" your asking price. The Blue Book won't change either of those reasons.

Most of us don't go into either side of a used car negotiation with a curiosity mindset. We just want to make sure we don't get taken for a ride!

"Didn't Curiosity Kill the Cat?"

Yes, most of us know that expression–but remember the other one about cats: They have 9 lives. So even if you lose one, you've got 8 left. And in any case, curiosity definitely does not kill off negotiations; it brings more life to them. A negotiation is, at its root, simply a conversation, albeit often one perhaps with not-so-simple objectives, or one with office politics or other constraints. The best conversations are those where at least one of the parties is curious about the other party–where they're coming from, what their motivations are, what would make them perceive the negotiated outcome as positive?

One of the beauties of the inequality "Curiosity > Ego" is that it allows for a healthy ego. Not enough ego and you'll let your counterpart aggressively walk all over you as you passively acquiesce to every demand. Not exactly a winning strategy. Whereas cultivating and maintaining an abundant curiosity can keep your ego from sabotaging your negotiations. So how can you cultivate your curiosity?

First, set "Be curious" as an explicit goal as you enter the negotiation. To help, imagine you're playing two roles. In one, you're a businessperson, working for the best deal you can get; in the other, you're an investigative reporter. As a reporter, you aim to find something new about your counterpart. Every time they say something that could potentially trigger a negative or defensive response in you, take out your metaphorical reporter's notepad and your Press Pass, you know, that piece of paper that gets you into the arena. Then ask questions that both put the other side at ease and allow them to share their reasons, as best they can. Then dig a little deeper. As James Altucher often says, "There's always a good reason, and then a real reason, for what people do."

You want to get to the real reasons, reasons the other side may not even know unless and until you unearth them together. Once unearthed, the real reasons can lead to bigger, better outcomes. Working together is what we call collaboration (the prefix col, a variant of com–"together," and labor, "work"). And we're more likely to tip the scale toward success by starting with the inequality, Curiosity > Ego.

Do you have any favorite ways to either increase your curiosity or decrease your ego? How about any good examples, or "good examples of bad examples" you've seen around this inequality, Curiosity > Ego.? Share them here or back to me directly at Thank you!

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