Questions lead both parties into a more active involvement with each other. And greater involvement is the key element. It helps improve the probability of an agreement, and acts as a catalyst to help you discover "both-win" negotiation potentials that may not have been visible.
The most direct route to understanding is through a good question. The trouble is most of us think of our best questions after the negotiation is over - while we're in the car going home.
But, our question-asking ability can be improved by following a few, rather easy "dos and don'ts."
You will discover more information and gain better understanding if you use "open-ended" questions. These are questions starting with:
• What, Where, When, How;
• Or, Help me understand; Explain to me; Describe to me;
• Be careful of "Why" - it may sound like a challenge.
First, let's look at the negotiation question "don'ts":
• Don't ask antagonistic questions unless you want a fight.
• Don't ask questions which impugn 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 teammate's good question by asking yours before his, or her's is answered.
These "don'ts" have one thing in common. They are communication barriers. They block information flow.
Now the negotiation question "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 buyer's assistant, production person, engineer, etc.
• Do have the courage to ask questions that may be evaded. That 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.
Dr. Chester L. Karrass brings extensive experience, advanced academic credentials in negotiation techniques, and over 35 years experience in seminar delivery. After earning an Engineering degree from the and a Masters in Business, Dr. Karrass became a negotiator for the Hughes organization