Home » Ask Your Way to Success — The Delicate Art of the Question

Ask Your Way to Success — The Delicate Art of the Question

by Louis J. Wasser

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” — Tony Robbins

Too often we think of the word “negotiation” in lofty terms, as though it refers to a secret process reserved for diplomats or celebrity dealmakers. In fact, negotiation is an art — albeit a lost art. We’ve learned to hide too well under the cover of the Internet, email, and social media. In so doing, we’ve come to accord less trust to the spontaneous side of ourselves. This is unfortunate, because if we lose the ability to negotiate, we lose power in our careers, our businesses and in our personal lives.

But the very centerpiece of a solid negotiation is the well-placed question. Asking the right questions can help you land a new job, close a deal, or enhance your love life.  It’s a way of reaching into others’ minds and hearts. If handled with finesse and pinpoint timing, even one great question can become a game changer.

Here’s what questions can achieve in the negotiating process:

  • Questions lead to information:  We learned this in grammar school: Want an answer? Ask a question. To move forward, diplomats, business people, community leaders… all of us… need to know what’s happening, as well as what others are thinking. An obvious but effective question business people too often fail to ask is “what do we have to do to do business with your organization?”
  • Your questions show you’re interested: If you’re a job applicant, you’ll probably move to the top of the recruiter’s list if you ask “if you decide to hire me, what will be my first priority?”  OR… “If I’m you’re preferred candidate, when will you want me to start?” Remember, interested people are always more interesting.
  • Asking questions can help remind others of your options: During the Yalta conference at the end of World War II, one of the negotiators mentioned the Pope’s take on the proceedings. The Soviet leader Stalin replied:  “The Pope? And how many troops does he have available for ready combat?”
  • Asking questions can help you remember better:  Two researchers at Washington University in St. Louis designed a study, published last year in The Journal of Educational Psychology, about how people remember. They had three groups read several paragraphs of text. Two of the groups were instructed to devise their own questions on what they read, and then answer their own questions. One group asked questions about details (an event, a date, a name of something, for instance); another group asked conceptual questions.  The group that asked and answered their own conceptual questions was the one that remembered the most.

Depending on your personality, you may want to choose a direct or gradual approach (“will you marry me?” vs. “if we were to marry, where would you want to live?”), but make no mistake.  A persistent and good questioning technique will help win the day in any negotiation.

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