Updated: May 20, 2019
"Your ability to question appropriately will be the most highly appropriate form of acquiring or re-acquiring power in a negotiation."
Power being; information and control, by questioning and listening you will earn information. By being the one asking the questions you’ll be in control, in control of self and the other person. By asking questions you’ll be less likely to give yourself away, either verbally or non-verbally and you’ll be the one controlling the flow of information, more in than out.
You’ll be less likely to sell, argue, justify, explain, persuade (trust me these are failures in a negotiation – the selling has stopped, you’re negotiating now – you need to use an entirely different skill set). By asking the questions you’ll be more likely to observe their selling (their weakness) and non-verbal communications. You’ll have more time to consider, weigh-up and act appropriately on the information. You will have power.
If you have lost control in a negotiation, you’re losing power. If you’re giving information away, you’re losing power, if you’re selling in a negotiation, you’re losing power! Consider asking a question.
If you find yourself talking too much and giving away information or maybe you’re making all the moves, answering all their questions and you’re getting nothing in return or maybe you just want a way to break an uncomfortable or inappropriate silence, just ask a question. On the telephone a simple “are you still there, have I lost you?” can be all it takes to break a silence and keep the ball rolling. You never know, your counterpart who was using silence against you was probably feeling pretty damn uncomfortable with their silence but they know they have power in that silence. By breaking the silence first you release their ego, they won this power struggle, but what did you give away.. nothing. If you were to follow this up with another question you could even open up the information sluice gates!
Sometimes a well-placed question can be the difference between maximising your negotiation or not.
Always consider what information you need before meetings and negotiations. Plan your questions. Plan how you’re going to ask your questions and plan who will ask these questions and when. But also, it’s imperative to listen and document the answers, give yourself time to understand what has been said and create appropriate actions from it. This action could well be another question to dig deeper.
When you ask a question, give them time to answer.. shhhh. Be silent.. become comfortable in that silence, silence is powerful. It will reap you high returns.
If your counterpart is as well trained as you then you may not get the information you seek. Repackage the question in a number of different ways. Ask the same question but in different styles and follow up, don’t let go, ask one question with another.
Well, known questioning techniques include;
Closed, open and funnelling – these are your baseline and a good place to start. Remember though, if you ask a closed question you must expect a closed answer (“is that the best you can do?” = yes or no, “what are your payment terms?” = 30days etc, so, unless you are clarifying a point or confirming a topic, be prepared to expand on your question with open questions, using ‘how, when and what-if’; “what if we paid €X?”, “what if we delivered in X days?” Then seek to expand your questioning using “tell me more about…?” You’ve just funnelled.
Probing questions are best used to draw information out or to clarify a point. Consider using the words “exactly” or “precisely” to emphasise; “tell me exactly, what are your priorities?”, “how, precisely, does your proposal breakdown?”
Leading questions or assumptive questions “so you’re desperate for our business then are you?”, “how late will you be on that proposal?” Pretty punchy, so be careful..
Rhetorical questions can be very powerful if planned well; “don’t you love the way our service has improved X clients operating model? Isn’t it great how we have been able to save them €xxx by modernising their practices? Wouldn’t you love to be as lean as that?”
Depending on where you are on the compass will determine how interrogatory you can be. More so when you are navigating a negotiation on the eastern front. Less so when on the western front.
On the western front, you’ll also need to be able to answer questions and in such a way that you build enough trust with the other party that enables them to expose sensitive information to you, for mutual gain.
Here you will need to plan for what information you’ll trade to earn that trust.
It’s in questioning you will earn negotiation power