Asking The Right Questions In A Negotiation

By Bradley Chowles November 26, 2019 | 2 min read

Every negotiation is an exercise in excavation. When you initially sit down with the other party, you have a mental picture of their case and organization. But over the course of your interaction with them, you gather as much information as possible to better inform your strategy and ensure the best possible outcome. This means excavating the needs, motivations, and expectations that lie beneath the surface; behind their prepared statements and rehearsed tactics.

So how does a skilled negotiator uncover this valuable information? Simple – by asking the right questions in a negotiation.

The “Open Sesame” of any negotiation

The best negotiators understand how open questions enable them to elicit valuable information. These questions do not have a simple “yes” or “no” answer; but rather get the other party to think and explain carefully. An open question might sound like, “What would the consequences be if delivery was moved back by two weeks?…” or “What circumstances led to your proposed changes?” And while open questions are uniformly valuable, they are not all created equal.

There are two different categories of open questions that can be used for different purposes over the course of a negotiation. The first type, known as Stage 1 Questions, prompts the other party to share existing information that they would otherwise not have shared. If you’re negotiating with a prospective customer, Stage 1 Questions would get them to explain their situation in greater detail.

Kicking it up a gear with Stage 2 Questions

The second type of open question, Stage 2 Questions, prompt the customer to create new information that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. This involves using more sophisticated inquiries to encourage a kind of “self-discovery”, whereby the customer gains new insight into the situation, as well as their own needs and motivations. A Stage 2 Question will typically ask the customer to rank or prioritize, to envision ideal outcomes, to compare situational aspects, and to share their personal feelings.

There are a number of key benefits to asking Stage 2 Questions in a negotiation. Not only are you actively encouraging a productive and stimulating discussion — which can do wonders for building a strong relationship with a prospective business partner — you’re also acquiring information and data that your competitors don’t have access to. This newfound level of detail can also help you develop more robust solutions to the customer’s problems, which can, in turn, uncover new opportunities.

There are four different types of Stage 2 Questions at your disposal in a negotiation. These are:

  1. Prioritizing questions, which encourage the customer to consider the relative importance or intensity of their needs.
  2. Hypothetical questions, which encourage the customer to think imaginatively about possible outcomes.
  3. Comparative questions, which get the customer to look at a situation from a different point of view.
  4. Emotive questions, which get the customer to talk about their feelings and clarify their emotional needs.

RED BEAR Negotiation Company is a global performance improvement firm dedicated to maximizing the profitability of the agreements negotiated with customers, suppliers, partners, and colleagues. If you’re interested in empowering your team with world-class negotiation skills, contact us or click here for more information.


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