20 questions to help you negotiate (and one to avoid)

In Zoomly’s ‘How to negotiate’ workshop (co-created with ‘How to pay less for more’ author Marc Lockley), after participants have practised negotiating with each other, we debrief and ask for insights gained. One of the big ‘aha’ moments people report is the power of asking the right questions – and the perils of asking the wrong ones.

A sure sign of a novice negotiator is a limited repertoire of questions, some of which may be unhelpful. More experienced negotiators have learned to use a toolkit of varied questions to get a better outcome. Here’s a small selection of questions for different stages of negotiation to help you build your toolkit.

Before you’ve even sat down with the other party, you need to answer some questions yourself – to ensure you’re prepared.
What do I want?
What do (I think) they want?
What do I already know about negotiating with this person?
What do I need to find out?
What are my deal-breakers, or non-negotiables?
What am I prepared to make concessions about?

Opening dialogue
When meeting with the other party, once the initial formalities have been done (who’s who, how long do we have today), the discussion needs to swiftly move to identifying needs and wants.
What outcomes are you looking for?
When do you need this to happen? (remember, we can negotiate more than money; time and quality are also involved)
What has worked well (and not so well) in the past that we can learn from?
Who’s involved?

Exploring possibilities
What do you have in mind?
What options have you considered?
What are your concerns?
What obstacles stand in the way and how can they be overcome?
How about [options] …?
Is there anything else?

Reaching agreement
If we [make concession], then will you [make concession]?
Which of these is most important?
Are we all agreed?
Who’s doing what, and when?

Oh, the question to avoid? ‘Why?’ Yes really – yet I can already hear cries of ‘Surely not! I mean, how can I understand what’s going on for them if I’m banned from finding out why?’ Of course you need to find out why the people you’re negotiating with must have the project completed by X date, or the why there needs to be a specialist overseeing the process, etc.

My concern for you is that we can all too easily overuse ‘why?’ when we perceive a response as challenging, or hear a request as too big an ask – and challenge right back. Things can get adversarial pretty quickly. Just pause for thought: how do you feel when someone incessantly asks you ‘why?’ (or its grumpy younger sibling ‘BUT why?’). Defensive? Threatened? Determined to put the other person down?

How best to find out why? My suggestion is to keep ‘Why?’ in reserve. Develop a more productive repertoire of questions to find out why, for example:
“What’s the thinking behind that?”
“That’s interesting, tell me more’ (well spotted: it’s not a question. It’s useful to follow up the previous one)

You may find this post useful: ’Influencing isn’t manipulating: keep it R.E.A.L.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’


Image: @ pikachyyyy-DepositPhotos

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