Your negotiation journey – part six

Asking questions might seem like a no-brainer but anyone who has ever done an interview knows that asking the right questions is not that easy. However, it is an important skill for a number of situations and not just interviewing or negotiating. So let’s find out more about technique six of the negotiation journey.

The art of questioning

Just a short read through the history of punctuation will get you to understand how questions have become such an important part of our communication. The question mark symbol has its own history that can be read here. When you think about it, the question mark somewhat resembles a human ear.. While this may be simply random, it reminds you what questions are in negotiations – an opportunity to listen.

Questions are the best way to get your counterpart to speak, but different questions will get you different answers. Here are a few types of questions and how you can use them for best results:

Closed-ended questions

This type of question seeks a specific and short response from the counterpart. The response’s scope is narrow and thus should be used in very specific cases:

Jim Camp also refers to these questions as verb-led questions. In his words,

“There are only two reasons to ask such a question: if you already know the answer, or if you’re near the very end of the negotiation and you have to really bore in.” 

“Who”, “when”, “where”, and “what” are often used for closed-ended questions. Thus, in your negotiation process concentrate the usage of this type of question towards the end, when it is about planning the next steps and you have received all the information you need.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are an invitation to speak, so the discussion partner wants you to become active. This type of question should be used at the beginning of the conversation. It enables to:

For experienced negotiators, open-ended questions can be seen as counter-productive. Why? If left too broad, the question will let the conversation partner take the lead over the discussion. You don’t want to be stuck listening to someone’s long monologue. The secret ingredient to an effective open-ended question is a rapid realization question, namely one that can narrow the discussion’s scope. 

Here is a short example:

Calibrated questions are the best kept secret… until now

Questions are also a useful tool to respond to unrealistic expectations from the counterpart. While this thematic is discussed in depth by Chris Voss in Never Split the Difference, what I can recommend here is to simply turn the table when faced with unrealistic requests.

How am I supposed to do that?

Asking the counterpart to elaborate on how you should lower the price below your reserved price, or accept an increase in the listing fee will help you uncover valuable information.

Questions are at the center of negotiation. Using them wisely will lead you to uncover the real interests or needs of your counterpart. valuable information will enable you to understand what is needed and thus adjust your offering to meet the expressed expectations. 

Ideally, by now you know how to behave at the negotiation table, from establishing yourself as a host to asking the right questions. However, you are not the only one at the negotiation table so in the next part of the series find out how to deal with aggression.

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About the author

Constantin Papadopoulos is a senior marketing & sales consultant. He builds bridges between services & products and their respective audience. He is also a communication & negotiation trainer for the Swiss Army.