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At the heart of interest-based negotiation is a technique called diagnostic questions. Asking diagnostic questions will help you figure out what your bargaining partners' interests are or what they want out of the deal. They are open-ended, usually starting with words like who, what, when, where, or why, or phrases like, "Tell me more about X, Y, and Z." They're also used to expand a conversation. If you were to ask your boss, "Do you think it's possible for me to get a raise this year?" you've created a closed-ended question, giving your boss the chance to answer with a simple, "No!" But let's try a different tact on this, this time using open-ended questions.
You might open the conversation with questions like, "How is the restructuring going for you personally?" or, "What do you like about working in the new building?" Asking open-ended questions help set the tone and engage in things that matter to both you and your partner. Once you've established this connection, get down to the subject of negotiation. A question like, "What results do you most want to see me produce to justify a raise next review?" You're aligning yourself with the company expectations and showing yourself to be a team player, willing to benefit the whole organization.
Your boss will likely see that you're interested in accomplishing group goals and not only focused on self interest. These types of questions are also most effective when you run into objections or flat-out refusal. They allow you to dig a little deeper and create an atmosphere of mutual problem-solving. In the absence of facts and information, we tend to mind read and make the assumptions, or worse, we try to convince people to do something they don't want to do.
Asking diagnostic questions helps you gain clarity and guide the conversation toward agreement. To help you master this, take a look in your exercise files for a list of diagnostic questions. See it as a cheat sheet, and if you get stuck remember the Ws, who, what, when, where, and why, and see what follows.
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