Excerpt from Chapter 2 of
The Negotiator’s Toolkit by Allan Parker
The Art of Asking Questions
Good negotiators are people who generate understanding and interest in the person with whom they’re talking. The person who clarifies or shows that they are genuinely interested, makes sure that they know what is being said or communicated.
It’s a very rare occurrence when someone is a skilled or successful negotiator, that you won’t notice them asking as many questions, as frequently, as they make statements.
It’s often said that the mark of a good negotiator is the ratio of questions to statements during a negotiation.
Obviously we use questions in a number of different ways. The way that we ask a particular question will elicit a different response. The types of questions that I’d like to work with, are rather simple, almost elementary. But don’t be misled into thinking, because they are simple and elementary, that they aren’t incredibly powerful, because they are. The process of changing the course of powerful negotiating rivers is to be able to move the flow by utilising questions.
Questions in Four Categories
Probably the most commonly used questions in the process of communication or negotiation are:
- The Closed Ended Question
- The Open Ended Question
- Statements as Questions
- Double Barrel Questions
This is a question that just requires a very short or conclusive answer. Often a simple “yes” or “no”.
The asking of a closed ended question, because of the very nature of it, will elicit the answer yes or no. A critical factor to consider is, if the answer is yes or no, the probability of you getting a disagreement will be about 50%. I don’t know if that’s good enough odds. I try to confine closed ended questions until the point where I want to close something off. An example might be, when I ask you a variety of different open ended questions (which we’ll discuss shortly) designed to gather information. Then when I need to close off a particular discussion point and move on to the next, I might ask some closed ended questions, something along the lines of “That’s been interesting, is there anything else that you’d like to tell me about?”. The answer obviously will be “yes” or “no”.
Another question might be “Is that what you think about it?” and another one might be “Have we actually covered that point or is there some more?” Very simply as the name suggests, a closed ended question is most appropriate and most useable at the point where you want to close something off. Alternately you may use it to converge where something has been opened up. You might want to quickly bring it to a conclusion or to specifics, so that you can really define the absoluteness of the subject being discussed. Always remember that when you feel it’s time to close, it may not be the right time for your negotiating partner. While you may ask a closed ended question, you may find you get an open ended question or statement back.
How to identify a closed ended question.
They usually start with, “Do you,” “Can you,” “Should you,” “Would we,” “Wouldn’t it be,” “Don’t you think.” They generally have a pronoun as the second word in the question. (They generally elicit a yes or no answer.)