Good negotiators are adept at understanding the power of questions because gaining information from their opponent by asking questions opens up the field of negotiating points from which to form a winning plan. Good negotiators also know that they will be asked questions in return.
How we respond to questions can be critical to determining the final result of any negotiation.
To improve our capability in responding to questions, consider the following six rules, guidelines and suggestions.
The Power of Questions
- Good negotiators always pause before answering a question. That pause sends a powerful message and provides time to consider the right answer. Remember the old saying, “… God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk…” Many questions are asked of us, not to gain information or a significant verbal response, but to put us on the defensive and take control. Focus any answer on tactfully regaining control. For example, there are times when we should delay answering their question and instead compliment their question and consider asking why they asked it.
- Not all questions deserve an answer. Responding with silence, a pause or a puzzled look can be most disarming to our opponent. Ignoring their question and, after that pause, proceeding with a question of our own may be just the right technique or mechanism. This can work wonders when negotiating with your family, especially your kids!
- Answers to questions should not be framed to please our opponent. Being too accommodating with our answers can send all the wrong messages, i.e. “I’m ready to concede.” or “Keep asking and I’ll keep making concessions.”
If your answer is likely to come across as combative, soften it by first saying, “You may not like to hear me say this, but ….”
- Consider answering questions like today’s politicians do. They give an answer, but not to the question being asked. They typically answer the question they wished they had been asked. They stay “on message”. Be very careful with this strategy because if you use it to much, the power of questions can boomerang back on you.
- Go into negotiations thinking of what you’d hope your opponent would ask. Formulate that answer and be prepared to give that answer to some question they will ask. A bridging statement will make it work, such as, “You bring up a good point, and first let me say….” Read that sentence carefully; common in American English vernacular is the use of the word “but”. “But” is the conjunction that is the grand eraser of what just came out of your mouth. Understand that in this example, if you say “but” instead of “and”, subconsciously, you just insulted your opponent by taking away the compliment you just paid!
- The right answer is always a concise answer. Saying too much is the downfall of many a negotiator. Chose your words carefully. Use more short sentences. Think quickly if your response might be one you’ll regret. Remember, a closed mouth gathers no foot. You can’t ‘unring the bell’ and take back something you said in error.
Find one or more of these question response techniques and add them to your negotiating skills. They’ll serve you well as you Keep Negotiating.
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