The most efficient way to gather information from someone is to ask open-ended questions, i.e., questions that can be answered in a potentially infinite number of ways. This will give the speaker a broad canvas to tell you what’s most important to him or her.
In contrast to open-ended questions, closed-ended questions are narrow in scope and can typically be answered only “yes” or “no.” Instead of remaining open to whatever direction the speaker takes you, when you ask a closed-ended question you narrow the field through assumptions about what is likely to be important or relevant to the speaker. Sometimes these assumptions will be correct; nonetheless, unless you test the assumptions, you may never realize that you’re getting an incomplete picture.
But there is a place for closed-ended questions: They are effective in confirming your grasp of what the other side has said. Closed-ended questions can also be used to refine your comprehension of a certain point or to fill out details.
In combination, these two types of questions can be very effective. Often used in deposition practice, the “funnel” technique starts off with open-ended, general questions and gradually moves to more closed-ended, specific questions as you obtain more information.
Here are some helpful questions to consider for use in your next negotiation:
- Why? What would you like to see happen? What concerns you most? Where would you like to begin?
- Tell me more about…? What do you mean by…? Can you put that in other words? Can you be more specific? What specifically makes you say that…?
- Can you tell me more? Go on.… Can you elaborate? What you said was important/interesting/helpful—can you say more about that?
- Why do you believe that? What evidence supports your conclusion? Can you give me a specific example of why…? What are the implications of…? Where do you want to be in 5 years and how does what you’ve proposed further that goal?
- Why is… important to you? What is significant to you about… ? What interests of yours does… meet? What if you don’t get… ? What does… mean to you? What will getting/having… do for you? In an ideal world, what would you want and why?
For more tips for engaging in successful negotiations, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 46. And check out CEB’s program The Basics: Negotiation, ADR, and Settlement, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts on negotiating skills:
- How to Make Your Negotiations More Efficient
- How to Guard Information During Negotiation
- Listen and You Shall Learn
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