If you’ve been reading for a while you know that I’m sort of obsessed with you getting, using and sharing information when you negotiate.
Interest based negotiation is only effective when you know what one another’s true interests in the deal are. You can only know what those interests are if you have information.
So how do we get more information? By asking questions.
Here are some more types of questions and how, when and why you might use them.
The Open Ended Question
If you really want to gather information, start learning how to ask open ended questions.
Open ended questions encourage the person to provide you with information; closed ended questions can usually be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”
Open ended questions assume as few facts as possible; closed ended questions assume many facts.
Closed ended question: “Do you give bonus payments for finishing the work early?”
Open ended question: “How do you incentivize artists to finish work before the deadline?”
Our closed ended question can be answered “yes” or “no” and not give you a better idea about what the client would do if the work were finished early. It also assumes that the only reward available for early work is an additional payment.
The open ended question requires the client to come up with a full sentence answer (at least) and it doesn’t cut off the possibility that you could be rewarded in a number of ways for beating the deadline (more work, perhaps?).
Closed ended question: “Are there other books in this series you’ll be publishing?”
Open ended question: “Can you give me an idea of some of the other projects your company is working on right now?”
The closed ended question doesn’t let you get your foot any further in the door unless you kick the damn thing in. So they say “yes” or “no”; what advantage does that give you? At best it gives you the opportunity to ask another question. But you want information not a game of 20 questions.
The open ended question will produce a more robust answer and will provide real information that you can follow up on. “Oh, do you have an artist lined up for the King Arthur story?”
Ah! And for the A+ students in the audience, yes, I followed up an opened ended question with a closed ended question. That’s OK. It’s OK when I want to winnow down the information I have and start breaking it up into smaller chunks. Or, more simply, when I want a “yes” or “no” answer.
You want to use open ended questions at the beginning of relationships or projects; those times when information is most valuable for you and you have the least of it.
They’re also helpful if you think something is going on in the project, but you’re not quite certain and you don’t want to ask about it directly. Properly worded, an open ended question will help you not look like a buttinski and will give you the information you’re after.
Open ended questions also help us avoid assuming so much about a project that we blind ourselves to info we’d actually find useful. Those “yes” and “no” questions assume that you know how things work, and as we all know, when you assume, you make an ass out of “u” and “me.” So don’t be an ass and think you already know how everything is going to go down; ask good open ended questions and see how much extra information you end up getting.
Rapport Building Questions
I’ve touched on this elsewhere, but I can’t stress enough how useful it is to build rapport with your negotiating counterpart.
Rapport builds trust and creates a non-threatening area in which you can exchange information and learn how your counterpart deals with information you provide. Do they use it against you? use it to help you? exchange information in return? collect as much information from you as possible and clam up?
Rapport building is a great way to break the ice, start a meeting or defuse a heated conversation. And once you know the other side a bit more, you’ll have more ways in which to communicate.
See, we don’t actually all share one brain. We think about things differently and sometimes, despite our very best efforts at clear communication, our lines get crossed. You’ll think you very clearly stated that you could do the rush job but only if they increased your hourly by $100 and agreed that the last draft was final; they will have very clearly heard that you can do the rush job.
When we have a bit of a relationship built up with someone, we expand the number of ways in which we can communicate. So when the impasse happens because our lines got crossed, we’re not stuck; we can relate to one another through a hobby that we share or a book we both just finished.
Having a rapport with someone can also give us clues to how our counterpart thinks or takes in information. For instance, the person you’re working with recently told you that he doesn’t like listening to audio books because he never feels like he understands what’s going on; he enjoys reading much more because he feels like he grasps more of the story.
Basically, he just told you he’s a visual learner and auditory messages are hard for him to remember.
How does that help you in your working relationship?
Well, if it were me, I’d make sure that I followed up every conversation we ever had with a quick email going over the things we talked about and any agreements we made. I know that he’ll be more likely to remember the conversation if I do that and if there were details we were thinking about differently, he’ll be much more likely to catch them in the email than in our conversation.
Hopefully, by now you’re well versed at rapport building questions. They include creative quizzes like “What did you do this weekend?”, “I love this song; who’s your favorite band?” and “How are you?”
It’s small talk, basically. But it’s purposeful. Tell a little bit about yourself and then ask an open ended question of them that is related to what you were talking about.
It’s perfectly suited for the beginning of conversations. Don’t jump into “I’m offended by the ridiculously low rate you offered me in your email this morning and I think you’re a jerk!” Try five minutes of “Man, the weather is beautiful today; I hope I get the opportunity to work a bike ride in. What are you up to this afternoon?” instead.
It’ll relax you before the conversation you need to have which will improve how effectively you communicate. It will also relax your counterpart, making it more likely that he’ll listen to what you have to say when you get to the thorny stuff.
By the way, for this to really be helpful you have to be genuine. I’m not suggesting you make each of your clients your new best friend or that you share very personal details with them. But you do have to genuinely like Star Trek for that to be something you bond over.
Now fly, my fellow Curious Questioners, fly! The one with the most information wins!