This Month's Topic:
Asking the Right Questions is a Key to a Successful Negotiation
Oftentimes getting a good deal depends more on asking the right questions than gathering what you believe to be the critical information. The following will help you set up a questioning process that can reveal hidden information that will move the negotiation forward rather than hitting roadblocks.
1. Ask "Why?" We are so often trying to find out what they want we forget to ask why they want it. It is surprising how often people have not figured out for themselves why they want something and get stuck in demanding a symbol for it without ever considering alternative choices to meet this need/interest. In this way, you can move the conversation away from simply an exchange of demands to a discussion of underlying interests. This in turn opens the door to some creative ways to design a deal.
2. Ask open-ended neutral questions. Too often the questions we ask are really loaded, leading and veiled advocacy ("Don't you think…" and "Can't you see…") which triggers defensiveness. Neutral questions are more in the form of "We seem to have very different reactions to … I'm interested in your point of view. What interested you in …? Why do you think it works better than…?"
3. Use targeted questions. The questioning process is not as easy as it sounds at first glance. Once you have asked the open-ended questions, use target questions to elicit more focused and useful responses. For instance replace "How can we make this offer more appealing to you?" with "What are your favorite aspects of this offer, and why? Which aspects could be better and how can we improve them?"
4. Ask for their advice. When you ask for your counterpart's advice you not only compliment them, you engage them in a process of working together to find workable solutions to a shared problem. Most people love giving advice when asked (and even when not asked) so use that to build trust, open dialogue, develop understanding, and close the deal.
*Negotiation, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Vol. 13,
Num. 2 / January 2010.