If you’re closing a deal, asking your boss for a higher salary, a promotion, or buying a service of some kind, you will find yourself in a negotiation. If you think you have little influence on the outcome, I used to think the same way. People would either agree or not. But by changing the way you ask questions, you can have a dramatic impact and actually get more explains Columbia law professor Alexandra Carter.
Should You Ask Open or Closed Questions?
The first mistake we all make in negotiations is asking closed questions instead of open questions. “Would you like to…” is a typical error, explained Carter who is also a negotiation trainer for the United Nations and author of Ask For More on my podcast.
“That’s a classic closed question, and what is someone going to answer? No!” The easiest answer to any closed question is usually a quick decline because it saves the other party from additional work. The secret is asking open questions that make people about the actual goal at hand.
Instead of “would you like me to come in and do a workshop?” Carter says, giving the other party an easy way out of the conversation, I’d say “tell me what you’re doing to train your negotiators…” Not only does this prevent a yes or not answer ending the discussion, but it also shows the other party how interested you are. “Open questions create a lot of trust” she explains.
Open questions also practically compel the other person to open up to you and share ways you could work together. “Open questions are one of the most powerful tools I have to create deals or even to save deals.” Even for people who ask a great open question however, they can still screw it up though.
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Land The Plane
Many times, Carter will see an incredible question asked, but the person negotiating will destroy the opportunity by continuing to talk. “Sometimes at the table, I’ll see a negotiator ask a great question like ‘What do you need to get this done today?’ and instead of having the courage to land the plane, bring it down, and let the silence be there, they will fill the silence adding something like ‘…would ten thousand dollars do it?'” She concedes she wants to clap her hand over their mouth.
The fact is, you don’t’ know what the other needs, so randomly volunteering information to end the awkward silence hurts your position. “It could have been five thousand dollars, and you just overpaid. It could have been mentorship, pathways to advancement, training, or anything else.” Carter said. “Ask your great question, then shut up!”
Silence is a gift. The better the question, the more silence. Sit back and let the silence win the negotiation for you.
Know What You Want
The most important part, however, before you start any negotiation starts with you. This sounds stupid, but when you don’t come ready and know specifically what you want out of a deal, you can needlessly destroy your own ability to ask for more.
“You don’t need two cars to have an accident—and if fact a lot of our negotiations are one-car accidents.” explains Carter.
Do you really want money? Perhaps you just want more vacation time, or more time off, or a company car? In one case in Ask For More Carter explains how one lady negotiating for a new position didn’t actually want more money, she just wanted the ability to have her husband come with her on a few business trips. That was really it.
Knowing exactly what you want before you go into a negotiation is key to winning it. (I admit I made this mistake just a few weeks ago.) But does winning a negotiation mean someone else loses? Actually no.
There Are Winners and… Winners?
It turns out the famous old quote “a good negotiation is one where both parties walk away equally unhappy” may not be true, at least according to Carter. She routinely gets more than what she asks for and trains thousands to do the same.
“I think people assume that it’s not negotiating if they’re not losing something,” Carter said, “but I have also seen negotiations where just by asking a few simple questions, people came out with both of them having far more than they ever could have thought possible.”
Click here to buy Alexandra Carter’s new book Ask For More.