Questions are an inevitable part of every negotiation. But many negotiators still don’t know what type of questions to ask to get the information required to be successful.
Why is that and what can you do to ensure you’re asking effective questions in every negotiation?
In this helpful guide, we’ll share the importance of asking the right questions and give examples of what questions to ask in negotiation to help you reach an agreement that works for everyone.
Table of Contents
- Why Is Asking Questions Important in Negotiation?
- How Should Questions Evolve in a Negotiation? Use the Questioning Funnel
- Phase I: Broad, Open-Ended Questions
- Phase II: Leading Questions
- Phase III: Close-Ended Questions
- 5 Additional Tips When Determining What Questions to Ask in Negotiation
- Let The Maker Group Ensure That You’re Prepared for Your Next Negotiation
Why Is Asking Questions Important in Negotiation?
Asking effective questions during a negotiation reveals important information that allows you to effectively gauge the other party’s interest. Once you’ve determined the level of interest the power shifts in your favor, making it more likely that you’ll achieve a positive outcome in the negotiation process.
Mark Cuban, famous billionaire entrepreneur and media mogul, once said:
“Information is power. Particularly when the competition ignores the opportunity to do the same.”
In negotiation, the reality is that many people fail to ask questions, which means they lack the necessary information to sway the deal in their favor.
Asking the right questions is a sure-fire way to shift power and take control of the outcome in any negotiation.
Can Questions Create Resistance in a Negotiation?
The problem is that many negotiators resist answering questions because they’re often viewed as a battle over something unmovable or set in stone. Questions can be met with suspicion from the other party, rather than a way of working together toward a common goal.
It makes sense. No one wants to feel taken advantage of, or exposed to the possibility of being milked for more than they’re willing to give. So naturally, questions can create resistance in a negotiation.
In the end, questions often go unanswered or are countered with more questions, leaving both parties without the valuable information needed to successfully seal the deal.
How Can Resistance Be Overcome?
The key to overcoming resistance is to ask the right questions in the right way.
Avoid being aggressive or confrontational. This is counterproductive and can leave the other party feeling attacked, putting them on the defense almost immediately.
Rather than focusing on competition, focus on collaboration. By asking questions that communicate your desire to reach a mutual agreement, as opposed to personal gain, you can reduce the resistance from the other party.
The Maker Group is a negotiation consultancy that provides training and workshops for companies all over the U.S.
We utilize our years of combined commercial negotiation experience and expertise to give your team the knowledge and confidence to ask the right questions in any negotiation.
For more information, click here.
How Should Questions Evolve in a Negotiation? Use the Questioning Funnel
Phase I: Broad, Open-Ended Questions
First of all, let’s define what “open-ended” means, exactly. As negotiators, our goal is to gather information. The best way to do this is to get the other party talking, which means you need to avoid questions with a simple yes or no answer — these are closed questions.
An open-ended question begins with:
- Why; and
Open-ended questions come across as less combative or interrogative because they allow negotiators to decide how much information they want to share. Furthermore, they gather far more details and information than closed questions.
Examples of Open-Ended Questions in Negotiation
Here are some examples of open-ended questions to ask in negotiation:
- “How quickly does your logistics team usually get large orders out the door?”
- “When do you see yourself having the availability to take on a project of this size?”
- “What issues do you see with the current pricing model?”
Each of these example questions is intended to elicit a response that will gather information about the opposing party and where they stand on issues within the negotiation. This brings you to the next phase: leading questions.
Phase II: Leading Questions
Leading questions use the art of persuasion to guide the other party to agree or fill in the blank with an answer that is in line with your point of view.
Typically, leading questions are phrased to manipulate the other party into providing you with a desirable or more in-depth answer. The idea is to use the information you gathered while using open-ended questions and steer the other party toward agreeing with your thoughts on the matter.
Leading questions do not have to be verbal to be effective. For example, let’s say you’ve asked a question and feel the answer has been kept brief or hasn’t provided the information you want.
Instead of asking for more, you could …
- Stay quiet, forcing the other person to fill in the silence
- Nod your head in encouragement; or
- Position yourself as if you’re waiting to take more notes
You may also use body language cues to elicit the desired response. For example, a used car salesperson may have a car that’s been in stock for a while and they’d like to get rid of it as quickly as possible. The salesperson may employ the tactic of smiling or making big, excited gestures when pitching the features of that car.
Other effective body language cues that may win over the other party include:
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice; and
- Using emphasis
Lastly, you can lead the other party to agree with you by using the assumptive principle. This means acting like something is true so that the other party believes it to be true.
Examples of Leading Questions in Negotiations
Here are some examples of leading questions to ask in negotiation:
- “You would prefer to move up the shipping dates, wouldn’t you?”
- “Do you agree that we need to get this done before the grand opening?”
- “How much do you think prices will go up next year?”
Each of these questions is intended to lead the other party to agree with the statement within the question. This brings us to our final phase: close-ended questions.
Phase III: Close-Ended Questions
Using close-ended questions may seem counterintuitive in a negotiation, but if you’ve already asked the open-ended questions and have led the other party to a place of general agreement, then close-ended questions can be used to quickly seal the deal.
Closed questions also give you control in a conversation. You are asking for a straight answer when using closed questions, which then shuts down the conversation.
Examples of Close-Ended Questions in Negotiations
Here are some examples of close-ended questions to ask in negotiation:
- “We agree to move the shipping date ahead by a week, correct?”
- “You can have this done by the grand opening, right?”
- “Can we lock in the contract at the current price?”
Using close-ended questions should get you the answers you’re looking for, and then all that’s left to do is sign on the dotted line.
5 Additional Tips When Determining What Questions to Ask in Negotiation
#1: Design Your Questions to Be Probing
Probing questions are designed to gather more information, specifically if the answer to a question asked is incomplete.
Some examples of probing questions in negotiation may include:
- Nudging probes – Prompts such as:
- “I see”
- “What happened next?”
- “Tell me more”
- Silent probes – Using social pressure by:
- Staying quiet and waiting for more
- Nodding your head
- Leaning forward
- Positioning your pen to write more
- Information probes – Using follow-up questions that ask for clarification of information or for more information
- Summary probes – Summarizing the other party’s responses to multiple questions
- Clearinghouse probes – Gathering any relevant details that the counterpart hasn’t explained
#2: Phrase Questions With a Neutral Intent
Phrasing your negotiation questions with neutral intent builds trust with the other party. For example, instead of saying …
- “I think this pricing model is going to work, don’t you?”
… you could say this …
- “What do you think of the current pricing model?”
Instead of prompting the other party to agree with you, make sure your initial questions elicit an honest response. Remember, it’s all about gathering information at the beginning of a negotiation.
#3: Pair Questions With an Explanation
Another way to encourage the other party to be honest with their answers is to first explain why you’re asking the question. For example:
- “We have found that some clients prefer the predictability of monthly payments, while others prefer to pay annually for the savings. Which of our payment plans do you prefer, and why?”
Questions like this appear less confrontational or interrogative, making it far more likely you’ll get the information you’re asking for from the other party.
#4: Avoid Creating a Hostile Environment With Loaded Questions
Loaded questions contain assumptions that the other party is more than likely to disagree with and will immediately put them on the defensive.
These questions are often phrased to put pressure on the other party to confirm the negative assumption, rather than replying in a way that they would prefer.
An example of a loaded question in a negotiation may look like this:
- “Do you actually think those shipping dates are acceptable?”
- “You mean to tell me that this isn’t enough time to finish the project?”
- “Don’t you see how problematic this pricing model is?”
All of these questions assume something that has not been verified and that the other party is likely to disagree with. They create a negative and hostile environment and should be avoided.
#5: Don’t Add a Close-Ended Question to an Open-Ended Question
Another common mistake made in negotiations is to add a close-ended question to an open question. For example:
- “Can you tell me about your current shipping company? Are they fulfilling their promises?”
- “Tell me about a similar project you’ve worked on in the past. Were you able to finish on time?”
- “Can you explain the reasoning behind this pricing model? Is it negotiable?”
The problem with questions like this is that the other party will probably jump to answering the second (close-ended) question rather than providing you with the information you asked for in the first question.
Let The Maker Group Ensure That You’re Prepared for Your Next Negotiation
Asking the right questions is critical to success in business and daily life. Knowledge and preparation can help you gather the information you need to get more of what you want.
The Maker Group offers consulting and negotiation workshops that will show your team exactly what questions to ask in negotiation to help drive profitability.
Don’t sit back and wait for them to figure it out on their own. They won’t.
Let the years of experience and expertise of The Maker Group, one of the best negotiation consulting firms, help your team enter every negotiation equipped with the skills that will result in success — every time.