Two true “Magic Question” stories.

I felt so proud when my nephew told me how he used the skills I taught him to negotiate for the room he wanted in a house he will be renting with six other college students next fall semester. The group had agreed that, if my nephew, whom I call “Beau,” did all the legwork finding and arranging to rent a house, he would get first choice of bedroom.

However, once the other guys got a look at the house, they all wanted the same room Beau had chosen. Five of the six backed down when Beau reminded them of their previous agreement. However, one of the students, whom I’ll call “Hugo,” continued to argue for the same room.

Beau felt anger starting to build and an urge to argue. But then he used the first of his negotiation skills; he paused to think. Consequently, he remembered my First Magic Question, “Why?” He asked Hugo why he wanted the room in question. “Why?” uncovers the interests behind positions, such as, “I want that room.”

Hugo replied that, since he was the biggest of the seven guys, he should get the biggest room.

Next, my nephew added an especially nice touch. Instead of simply launching into his own interests, he asked Hugo, “Would you like to hear why I prefer that room?”

Having had his own reasons for wanting the room solicited and listened to, what could Hugo say but “Okay”? And Hugo was more inclined to listen to Beau’s interests with an open mind because Beau showed him the courtesy of asking if Hugo would like to hear those interests.

Beau then explained that he liked the room because he was the most studiest, and the room was quiet and secluded, in a back corner of the house, away from the living room, and without a bathroom en suite (so others would not be walking through his room to get to a bathroom). He added that, even if that room were the smallest, he’d prefer it because of the location and lack of bathroom.

End of argument. Hugo agreed that Beau’s reasons made sense.

These skills aren’t just for young, single housemates. One of my middle-aged trainees used the Magic Question “Why?” to negotiate with a family member about how one of the rooms in their house should be used.

Both incidents show how surprising the answers to “Why?” can be. Since all the students except Beau wanted the corner room because it was biggest, they naturally assumed Beau felt the same way. He surprised them with a totally different reason, one they could accept. So Beau benefited from telling why, though he also eased his path by first asking for Hugo’s interests.

In the family situation, the parent benefited by asking why one of the children wished to put the room to a different use from the way the parent wanted to use it. The child’s answer surprised the parent, a pleasant surprise because both parent’s and child’s interests were actually compatible and led to a mutually beneficial solution.

Two real-life “Why?” success stories about household arrangements in the space of one week. And I didn’t even have to go looking for them. They came to me. What better proof that these skills really work? What will be your next success story?