How To Use Calibrated Questions In A Negotiation
It’s a skill encompassed by great negotiators.
It’s why Harvard Law Schools' top ten negotiation skills include “asking good questions.”
“You can gain more in integrative negotiation by asking lots of questions — ones that are likely to get helpful answers.”
You’ve likely stumbled on advice that tells you to ask open and closed ended questions, but approaching a negotiation this way feels like the game 21 questions.
Take Harvard’s advice, “avoid asking yes or no questions and leading questions, such as don’t you think that’s a great idea?”
They recommend to “craft neutral questions that encourage detailed responses, such as can you tell me about the challenges you’re facing this quarter?”
Calibrated questions change the power dynamic.
Calibrated questions are how and what questions structured for maximum impact.
Why questions feel accusatory.
Imagine the times when someone barked the words, “why did you do that…”
As if they were about to rub your nose in the accident you made, like an animal. If it’s a shitty tactic for animals, it’s a shitty tactic for humans.
When you change your why to a what, or how, you remove the feeling of accusations. They help deliver an illusion of control in your counterpart. It puts the issue of solving the problem on them.
It stops to make people think. Your counterpart can’t answer these questions with a one-word answer.
One word answers are boring and often useless.
Turn your why question into what and how.
How and what questions allow your counterpart to see things from your side and keep everyone’s autonomy.
It’s why empathy in negotiations is critical to a successful outcome. Your counterpart can smell selfish intent from a mile away unless you’re a narcissist and easily mask your motivations. Don’t be that.
Instead of saying, “why did you do that,” say “what are you trying to accomplish by doing that,” or even better, “how are you trying to accomplish this by doing it that way?” you take the sting out of the ask.
It forces your counterpart to think.
Here are a few more question examples from Chris Voss,
- “How does this fit?”
- “What makes you ask?”
- “How do we know your team is on board?”
Setting up your questions by loading them up will give your negotiation the edge it needs to pursue a win/win situation.
To add in a layer of psychological impact, ask no oriented questions.
Use nonverbal communication to create a bigger impact.
How you deliver your question is just as important as the question you ask.
Imagine screaming, in an irritated tone, “how do you propose we make that work?”
Your counterpart will sense the irritation, forcing you to negotiate on your heels because you executed poor nonverbal communication.
Sure, it’s easy to tap these words on the page, in my cozy office, but I’m all too familiar with letting my emotions control how I pursue a negotiation.
Failure is often the best teacher.
When you control your emotions while delivering calibrated questions accompanied by smart nonverbal communication, your negotiations will end profoundly better than the alternatives.
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