April 30, 2013 10:30 am
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The best negotiators are often the best informed.  So doing your research in advance of your negotiation is important, but once you’re actually in the negotiation conversation, there’s another, often-overlooked, negotiation technique that you must deploy to help you improve your negotiation skills .

Asking questions.

It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how keen people are to jump right in with a proposal before they’ve got the full picture.

So finding out as much as you can is key, but how long are people happy for you to ask questions during a negotiation? On average it’s about 10-15 minutes.

Depending on the subject matter you might be able to ask 8-12 questions during that time, if you’re lucky.  That’s not much time.  On top, the other party might not want to reveal too much.  So the ability to extract the right information, efficiently, is very important.

improving your negotiation skills by asking questions

How do you do this? Here are five negotiation tips to try:

1.  Think like a lawyer – you’ve seen those lawyers operating in courtroom dramas on films or TV. Be like them. This doesn’t mean be aggressive. It means being polite and respectful, but razor sharp at the same time.

2. Plan your questions and ‘sequence’ them – ensure one question builds on another rather than chopping or changing subjects. This helps to make the conversation feel more natural and gets people talking.  Plan your lines of questions (usually no more than three), prioritise them, and decide how long you’re going to spend on each one so you don’t run out of time.

3. Be transparent – let them know why you want to know. If you say ‘The reason I’m asking this question is…’ they’ll spend less time worrying ‘why are they asking that question?’ and more time focusing on the answer. Transparency also helps to build trust.

4. Keep your questions short and to the point – avoid multiple questions or you will just get an answer to the last question you asked OR an answer to the one they want to answer.

5. Squeeze the Lemon – if you feel they’re holding something back, say ‘tell me more’. If you’re still not satisfied, try ‘is there anything else?’ If there are real problems or if there’s information that they’re unwilling to give, it will only come out after the third or fourth attempt.

It’s interesting to witness how tough it is to put theory like this into practice in the heat of the moment.

Delegates on our negotiation skills training courses usually open up their practice negotiations very well.  But then, nearly always, the dialogue deteriorates rapidly.  Negotiators from the same team question across each other, or jump in with a new question before the first one has been fully answered.  Valuable information is lost.

Once they realise what they’ve been doing, with careful negotiation coaching, by the end of the day they’re able to improve dramatically their ability to ask the right questions.  As a result, they achieve better deals, and build better relationships, than they had been able to at the start.

Please share your tips for asking effective questions in your negotiations – we’d love to hear.