Voltaire, that famous French Philosopher, once said to “judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” That same truth applies in the world of negotiation, too. A great negotiator is one who asks the right questions, and if you want to walk away from the negotiating table with a deal that’s beneficial to all involved, knowing just which questions to ask is so very important.
Be direct and bold in your questions.
If there’s one cardinal rule to follow when asking questions in negotiations, it’s this: the more direct, unflinching and shameless you are in your questions, the better off you’ll be. In general, negotiating teams are going to be reluctant in divulging their service histories or product imperfections unless specifically asked. And why would they? As an effective negotiator, you need to probe into their service history and product details with this kind of unflinching intent. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell.
Closed Questions: How and when to use them?
Closed questions are those that require a short and focused answer, and are especially helpful in the beginning stages of the negotiation to encourage interaction. They can be used to clarify a point, or to reconfirm certain facts. For example, you can use a closed question to confirm the amount of units the company can produce in a week, or to clarify that what they are really saying is that they don’t feel comfortable outsourcing their accounts to India. Most closed questions only require a simple “yes” or “no” response, so there really isn’t much room for misinterpretation – great for finding out where both you and they stand.
Open Questions: The granddaddy of them all.
In direct contrast to closed questions, open questions are those that allow the respondent to be creative in their answer and give you more information on where they stand, what they want, and their general feelings towards you. They are certainly the most popular and useful type of question in the negotiation process. And for good reason. With them you can understand the other party better, and tailor your settlement to both appease them and you.
Some useful open questions to use in the negotiating process include hypothetical questions, such as “if you find yourself unable to honour your production agreements at the end of the month, what will you do?” These questions will give you insight into the possible future behaviour of your potential business partner.
Of course, you’ll need to do your homework before the big meeting in order to craft the most effective questions to dish out on the negotiation table. So spend some time brainstorming your questions beforehand, and take periodic breaks in the negotiation process to fashion even more.