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The Questioning Process During Bargaining Interactions

By Charles B. Craver

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When individuals negotiate, both sides tend to ask a significant number of questions. This is especially true during the Information Stage during which each side is endeavoring to determine what their counterparts want and the interests underlying those position statements. Empirical studies have found that the most proficient negotiators ask twice as many questions as their less proficient cohorts. These findings should not be surprising to persons who negotiate regularly. When inquiries are propounded, the questioners learn a lot about what the other side hopes to achieve - and these questions may even generate unreciprocated position changes. On the other hand, when participants simply dominate interactions through repeated declarative statements, they tend to give away their important information and make more concessions than their counterparts.

As parties move into the "value creation" Information Stage, they should formulate broad, open-ended questions designed to get their counterparts talking. The more those persons talk, the more they disclose. When individuals are asked expansive inquiries, they frequently talk too much and disclose more than they should. Negotiators often think that their counterparts know more about their particular situations, needs, and interests than they actually do. They fail to appreciate the fact they are intimately familiar with the circumstances influencing their own sides, while their counterparts are not. As a result, as they respond to open-ended inquiries, they disclose pertinent information they naively think their counterparts already possess, when that is not true. They may also be induced to disclose their opening positions, before they have learned much about the needs and interests of the persons on the other side.

As bargaining parties get further into the Information Stage, the questions being propounded tend to become more specific. Skilled negotiators begin to ask what and why questions. The what questions are designed to ascertain the actual needs of their counterparts, while the why inquiries are used to go behind the stated positions and explore the underlying interests. This process is critical, because the questioners might not be willing to give their counterparts the specific terms they are requesting, but once they appreciate the underlying interests of those persons, they may be able to formulate alternatives that may satisfy those interests.

The Questioning Process During Bargaining Interactions By Charles B. Craver


Copyright © 2014 Charles B. Craver
Copyright ©   2014  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  November 2014