Questions In Negotiating
by Dr. Chester Karrass
Questions are mind-openers and can lead both parties in a negotiation to a more active involvement with each other. This greater involvement is the key element to more satisfactory negotiations.
During a negotiation, involvement helps improve the probability of an agreement, and acts as a catalyst to help you discover “Both-Win” potentials that may not have been visible at the start of your negotiation.
The most direct route to understanding is through good questions. The trouble is most of us think of our best questions after the negotiation is over – while we’re in the car going home or lying in bed the night after the negotiation.
You will discover more information and gain better understanding if you use “open-ended” questions. These are questions starting with:
- What, Where, When, How;
- Help me understand; Explain to me; Describe to me;
- Be careful of “Why” – it may sound like a challenge.
Question-asking ability can be improved by following a few, rather easy “dos and don’ts.” First, let’s look at the “don’ts”:
- Don’t ask antagonistic questions unless you want a fight.
- Don’t ask questions which question the honesty of the other party. It won’t make him or her honest!
- Don’t stop listening in your eagerness to ask a question. Write your questions down and wait.
- Don’t act like a lawyer. A negotiation is not a courtroom trial.
- Don’t pick just any time to ask a question. Wait for the right time.
- Don’t ask a question just to show how smart you are.
- Don’t cancel out your teammates’ good question by asking your question before their question has been answered.
These “don’ts” have one thing in common. They are communication barriers. They block information flow.
Now the “dos”:
- Do get your questions ready in advance. Few of us are bright enough to think fast on our feet.
- Do use every early contact as a fact-finding opportunity. The best questions and answers come months before the negotiation, not at the negotiating table.
- Do have a brainstorming question-asking session among your own people. You’ll be surprised at the number of interesting questions they will raise.
- Do have the courage to ask questions that pry into the other person’s affairs. Most of us don’t like to.
- Do have the courage to ask what may appear to be dumb questions.
- Do ask questions like a “country boy.” You will find this attitude encourages good answers.
- Do ask questions of the other person’s assistant, production person, engineer, technicians, etc.
- Do have the courage to ask questions that may be evaded. This in itself tells a story.
- Do take frequent recess periods to think of new questions.
- Do be quiet after you ask a question.
- Do be persistent in following up your question if the answer is evasive or poor.
- Do ask some questions for which you already have the answers. They can help you calibrate the credibility of the other person.
Questions and answers can be looked at as a negotiation in their own right. Every question has the character of a demand. Every answer is a concession. Those who demand better answers are more likely to get them. This added information helps you conduct your negotiation and create better outcomes.