Use Clever Questions in Your Negotiations

Learn how to ask negotiation questions in the right way. The question you ask will either elicit information or will invoke an emotional or irrational response.

'Are you simple or what?' Bet we now have your attention. Do you use and can you tell the various types of negotiation questions apart? How often can you tell when your chain is being pulled, in order to get a "fight or flight" response?

'The pen is mightier than the sword.' This is only partially true. The power of the spoken word should be more powerful or impactful. The tone or volume we use in our voice can be as blunt as steel or as calming as a lullaby to a sleepy eyed child. We don't expect this is news to you. Yet, often we don't give particular thought to how we really effectively communicate. Language can be used and played like a melodious violin, or annoy our senses like itchy, irritating hives. Oft times, we neglect to use our communication skills in our negotiation to our best advantage.

Good Questions vs. Bad Questions

Asking questions the right way is both an art and a science. The Negotiation Experts answers our site visitors' question for free, but only those that we consider of value to our readers. Ask the question the wrong way and a person might act like a turtle, becoming defensive and withdrawing into their shell. Ask the questions another wrong way and a person might roar back at you like an enraged lion. Ask it the right way, and the person might 'spill the beans' like they use to say in those old black and white movies. During a negotiation, we need to learn how to ask questions to get vital information, and we need to think about how to ask questions to get our counterparts to talk.

These really are the only two types of questions. Good questions produce results while bad questions don't. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But what's the real difference between the two? Let's take a look and hone our communications skills.

Effective and Useful Questions

The following are the most productive types of questions to ask in a negotiation. When you are attempting to elicit information, you need to phrase your question with the objective that you will obtain a beneficial and productive response that you can use to you advantage.

  1. Open-ended questions
    These are the kinds of questions that require a detailed answer in a negotiation and cannot be simply replied to with a 'yes' or 'no' response. They consist of using who, what, where, when, why, and how. The respondent has no alternative but to provide some detail.
    Example - ' How did you arrive at that particular price?'
  2. Open opportunity question
    This form of question invites the person to participate and offer their views.
    Example - ' What do you think of this option as a solution?'
  3. Leading Question
    Just like it sounds, you try to guide the person to your point of view in a persuasive manner.
    Example - ' With all these advantage I've pointed out, don't you think that this package benefits us both and is the best way to go for both of us?'
    Or, another form of leading negotiation question simply tails off and invites the other person to fill in the blanks.
    Example - ' And after we provide those documents that you just mentioned, you will....?'
  4. Low key question
    This is a gentle way to ask a question and not trigger an emotional or hostile response.
    Example - ' How much more will this cost if we chose this additional feature?'
  5. Sequential questions
    Sometimes, it can be very good strategy to ask a series of questions to lead up and achieve a particular result conclusion. Generally, it might be a good idea to plan these in advance.
    Example - ' And after you complete the first delivery, how long will it take for you to have the second shipment ready and sent to us?'
  6. Flattery question
    This is an effective means to be both complimentary to your counterpart while eliciting information from them, both at the same time. Everyone responds well to a friendly compliment.
    Example - ' Could we draw upon your particular and specialized expertise to add some input into this particular issue?'
  7. Probing deeper question
    When you need to gain a better insight into a person's thought process to further illuminate their rationale or position.
    Example - ' Could you provide us with more detail in how you analyzed the data that you just described and how you reached your conclusion?'
  8. Emotional thermometer
    There are occasions when you will sense that something might be starting to boil beneath the surface. This might be a good time to address a pending emotional response that might de-rail the negotiation by simply checking out how the other person feels about certain issues. Example - 'How do you feel about that aspect of settlement package?'

Landmine questions

These are the kinds of questions that can be very counter productive, confrontational and evoke negative emotional responses. When used in wrong stage of a negotiation, you might put your counterpart on the defensive or cause them to respond aggressively in return. Either way, your negotiation could end up being de-railed without your intending to self-destruct.

  1. Aggressive
    Certain kinds of question can result in being too pushy, especially when used at the wrong stage of your negotiation.
    Example - 'You're not trying to pull a fast one on us are you?'
  2. Loaded
    This style of question puts the person on the hot seat regardless of they respond to the answer, and therefore in very defensive position. It is very aggressive.
    Example - 'Do you expect me believe that this is the only acceptable solution that you will accept?'
  3. Emotional Trigger
    Certain questions will definitely result in triggering a powerful emotional response particularly when posed with a tint of arrogance or insulting scorn. You are definitely not going to add to your knowledge base by adopting this type of question because it's like shooting yourself in the foot in the process.
    Example - 'Do you really think that this ridiculous proposal is worth wasting my time?'
  4. Impulsive
    This is the type of question that pops out of your mouth before you gave it any thought. Always think - then ask, not the other way around.
    Any inappropriate question can serve as an example here.
  5. Tricky
    These are the questions that are loaded with innuendo, and may imply a threat or some similar action.
    Example - 'Are you going to cede to the demands we've outlined, or take us to arbitration?'

This is not to say that occasionally the so-called bad questions aren't productive in prompting a necessary reaction or response in the right situation to move things along. However, they are not the kinds of question that will elicit badly needed information, or that can be positively used when you are trying to build a partnership or relationship with your opposite number.


When you are asking questions to get information you need to evaluate the circumstances of your negotiation, you want your counterpart to work with you and not against you. It is important to think about how to best use your communication skills to get the best results. The manner in which you ask you questions can have a powerful bearing on the results of your negotiation so, and as they say, 'Think before you speak.'

  1. Leigh Thompson, 'The Heart and Mind of the Negotiator-2nd Edition', Prentice Hall Business Publishing, (2001).
  2. J. Lewicki, A. Litterer, W.Minton, M. Sauders, 'Negotiation', 2nd Edition, Irwin,(1994).
  3. Harvard Business Essentials 'Negotiation' Harvard Business School Press, (2003).

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4 of 14 people found the following comment useful:

Good Joke Buddy - 2011 Aug 22
Commentator: Anonymous (Australia - Queensland)

"Good ones and Bad ones HAHAHAHAHA TROLOLOl"

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5 of 9 people found the following comment useful:

Beyond the Open or Closed Cliches - 2011 Jul 31
Commentator: Isabelle (Canada)

"This article goes far beyond the ordinary Open and Closed question strategies.

Looking forward training with you"

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5 of 7 people found the following comment useful:

Well Done - 2009 Apr 4
Commentator: Ralph Miller (United States - Florida)

"Your small dissertation on questions in a negotiation are well thought out and very effective. Somone in your organization has both a formal education and a real education. A rare individual.
It is possible to be aggressive, directed, and powerful without forgetting that without my field "Civility" you're standing still.
Thank You"

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11 of 14 people found the following comment useful:

Appropriate use of questions - 2008 Apr 16
Commentator: Douglas Desrosiers (Canada)

"Article was good. The open-ended question could provide the most useful information. The Leading Question example was seeking an agreement using a yes/no answer. I'd try to rephrase it in a more open-ended style. To make best use of these questions, you must know your audience."

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