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Questions fundamental in negotiation

Draft your questions before you enter the negotiation.

Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the first section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, the characteristic traits of a great negotiator are explored in short, bite-sized nuggets of advice.

Over the next 132 days, we will bring you the traits needed to succeed at the art of negotiating.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)


7 Asking questions

To understand the other party, to discover what is possible, and move a negotiation forward to a successful outcome, you must ask questions. Ideally, you can begin with open-ended questions and move the negotiation forward with questions focused more to the point. You can use phrases like: “tell me about,” “please explain,” “can you describe,” “tell me if I understand correctly,” “help me to understand,” etc.

Ask questions sincerely and listen intently to the answers, taking notes if helpful. This shows the other party that you are genuinely interested in their interests, needs, and viewpoint in the negotiation. Asking meaningful questions and listening to the answers builds bridges and bonds in a negotiation.

Your eight best friends in any negotiation are: Why, Who, What, Where, When, Will, How, and If! To be a great negotiator, it is imperative to learn as much as possible about the other party and their position vis-a-vis the negotiations, and, most importantly, their underlying motives in the negotiation. People are not merely trying to get something as cheaply as possible. They want particular things, services, or products for particular personal reasons. Getting what they want cheaply is a secondary motive. But they are unlikely to present all the personal or essential information to you on a platter. To be a great negotiator, you must learn how to cordially elicit this information from the other party, to draw them out with open-ended or conversational questions. A great negotiator understands conversational dynamics and consciously crafts open-ended questions that elicit a friendly flow of information. A great negotiator understands that asking questions and eliciting meaningful conversational exchanges establishes a rapport with the other party, including the nonverbal connection, and develops mutual commitment between the parties.

To begin with, know what your objective is and prepare questions in advance which will lead the conversation toward that objective. Write down your thought through questions and the order in which they should be asked. You may follow this map point by point, but don’t use it as a rigid script. Be flexible and able to improvise in the moment as needed. But knowing the questions beforehand is knowing the essential territory of the conversation. It will help you to control the negotiation process and pace.

A great negotiator not only asks What, When, Who, and Where, but also asks HOW, WILL, and IF. A great negotiator knows the most important question is Why and, at the appropriate time, knows when and how to ask it because he or she is really present, really listening with full attention. Once you establish Why, then What, When, Who, Where, and How fall into place far more easily. Will and If could become redundant thereafter as they are to be used to provide alternatives but if you know Why then alternatives may become unnecessary.

When negotiating, every question must be relevant and substantive—even vital. This will make the conversation meaningful for the other party. Few people will allow an endless stream of questions to be asked of them. And secondary or nonessential questions will show that you aren’t very good at your job. A common exception to this rule is to ask the other party for their opinion on a particular matter in which they may be knowledgeable. People love to give their opinions!

It can be helpful to take notes while the other person is speaking, as it legitimises the negotiation and enables you to control the process and pace of the negotiation. And never interrupt the other person when he or she is answering your questions. Each question must contain one subject and be asked as simply and clearly as possible. Address complex matters with a series of questions, framed like a pyramid on its side, with a broad base and coming to a point.

First, pose a broad question; then, using information and words from this answer, ask increasingly narrower follow-up questions. After gleaning information and clarity from these answers, ask a final question to establish and clarify exactly what you, and perhaps the other person, need to know.

The timing of a question is vital. Asking the right question at the right time can move a negotiation smoothly forward to a successful conclusion. Asking the wrong question at the wrong time can undermine or sabotage a negotiation that had seemed promising. A badly timed or foolish question—for example, “Besides that, Mrs Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?”—can sink a negotiation on the spot.

Wherever possible, avoid close-ended questions requiring a yes or no answer right until the end when you ask the person if he or she would like to make the purchase, sign the contract, close the deal etc. You can always lead into this “closing line” with the question, “So, do you have any more questions?”





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