Calibrated Questions

21 open-ended calibrated questions

What is the best way to get what you want out of a negotiation? Would aggression work, or maybe compassion? What else?

Well, the answer is actually “calibrated questions.”

Let us explain:

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes by asking questions doesn’t just expand your view about them because of their answers. Asking questions allows people to open up and be more vulnerable to your asks inside negotiations. Key points to remember: Ask them questions that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. Make them talk. Get excited about their responses. Building authentic listening helps the other party to establish a connection with you and makes them learn that you genuinely care about a positive experience while working with them.

Building authentic listening helps the other party to establish a connection with you.

So what are open-ended calibrated questions?

These are questions structured around “how” and “what.” They force the other party to think about things from a more holistic point of view. When you make the other party the center of the negotiation, this makes them see things from their perspective but still lets them maintain a sense of autonomy.

I've got 21 questions

Here’s a list of 21 open-ended calibrated questions and why we recommend them:

1. What would you like for me to know?

By asking someone what they think you should know first, you invite them to rethink their own needs and draw a map for you. Staying curious about immediate fires in this person’s life demonstrates empathy and allows you to strategize where you put the water, (or acknowledgment of their pain), in the conversation.

2. How can I support you to make this different or better?

This question shows that you care about helping without pushing towards a single solution or your own opinions about their circumstances. By adding an element of compassion and care right away, you are showing this person you are invested in them and their happiness.

3. What can you do about this?

What can you do about this

Asking this makes them rethink the expectations they have of themselves.

Consider the Serenity Prayer, often used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other therapy-related groups. “Help me to control the things I can and let go of the things I can’t” are the ringing lines that can echo in this question during a conversation.

Asking this makes them rethink the expectations they have of themselves.

4. Help me understand your thought process.

Make them use logic towards their demands. Invite them to judge their position. Ask them to walk you through how they arrived at their conclusions so that you can shed light on things they may have missed along the journey.

5. What are the reasons you cannot do this?

This question is great when the other party turns you down a solution centered proposal. Asking this makes it clear that you will not buy into shallow excuses, and more often than not, they will fail to come up with a legitimate answer.

6. How do you justify your reasons?

Building upon the last question, if they give you a reason not to accept your demand, ask this question. Add meat to your queries and rephrase them if needed.

7. What about this circumstance matters to you?

Beam encouragement from your eyes like a floodlight to anyone sharing why things matter to them

. People want to be listened to, and they overwhelmingly want to make a difference in the world.

8. What is the next step to take?

Help model outcomes by asking where different thought patterns could lead. You’ll be empowering their brainstorming process, which encourages people to dream.

9. How can we solve this problem?

Putting them in the driving seat helps you understand their expectations from you. You can then see whether or not these expectations are negotiable.

10. What about this is a challenge for you?

This makes the other party think about why they can or cannot come round to your proposal. If they share with you the challenges they see, you can help to solve them and then negotiate on your terms.

11. How does this fit into your long term goal for the project or business?

These questions make the other party take a step back and reevaluate the problem again on a macro scale.

12. What makes you ask this question?

We’ve all heard it, “the question behind the question is most important.” That’s precisely what this question is. By asking this question, you can understand their approach better.

13. How do we know you are on board?

This question makes them steadfast on their answer and increases your chance of winning the negotiation.

14. When can we get this done?

It allows you to understand their limitations and instills a sense of urgency and punctuality on their end. Try sticking to a date and time for outcomes and hold them to it.

15. What is the highest priority here?

Help them, and you understand what it is that they will not give up. It will help you mold your strategy to a potential needs analysis.

16. Why do you think your solution is fair?

By making the other party defend their claims or proposal, you again take control in your hand. If they cannot prove that their idea is fair to all parties involved, you can renegotiate or pick back up on your brainstorm.

17. What part of my proposal gives you the most concern?

Make them tell you about the demand of yours that they will never accept so you can start focusing on other things to get the best possible deal.

Make them tell you about the demand of yours that they will never accept so you can start focusing on other things to get the best possible deal.

18. What proof do you have to validate your position?

By asking for proof, you can make sure whether or not they are bluffing. If they cannot offer evidence, you can be persistent with your demands. This is a common political tactic – watch the next debate and see many requests for proof from candidates, and even from the audience.

19. What else would you like for me to know?

This question helps you understand all the necessary details and makes sure that you didn’t miss out on anything important.

20. How can we work things out?

Give them apparent control, make them lead the negotiation or problem-solving charge, and understand what they expect. When you’re negotiating a sale, you can use this feedback to sweeten the pot or sell your product with their own words.

21. How do we finalize the plan?

Unless things are done in ink and paper (per se) you can never be sure about the outcome of the negotiation. So try to get things official by asking for a signature, a proposal recapping the agreement, or a check.

In conclusion

Using open-ended calibrated questions is a tried and tested technique by negotiators. These questions have led to successful negotiations in high-pressure situations for business or even life and death situations. So the next time you want to win in a negotiation, or problem-solve with someone close to you, use this technique. Don’t be afraid to ask the same question a few different ways if you don’t get the answer, and you need to move forward.

Well, there you have it, 21 calibrated questions to help you come out victorious from a negotiation. Good luck, and be sure to use them wisely.

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