Controlling the Conversation in a Negotiation

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workplace negotiations

In most negotiations, we tend to focus on the end goal and our “ask.” We typically try to justify that “ask” with facts and data. In fact, most negotiation training advises the use of data to back up a demand. The implication is that you should be prepared to give a presentation on what you are asking for and why you deserve it.

But have you ever been in a conversation in which the other person does all the talking? What was the result?

Preparation is definitely key. If you can’t answer the questions seeking justification for what you are asking for, it’s unlikely you will get what you want. But the person who does all the talking is not controlling the conversation. Even more important, the person who does all the talking is typically the most pleased with the conversation and the least aware of its impact and consequences.

In other words, when you spend an entire meeting presenting your case, you might walk away from the conversation patting yourself on the back, but you are probably not leaving with the deal you wanted.

Questions Control Conversations

When you have a great accomplishment that warrants a salary increase, a bonus, or a promotion, don’t go in and tell your boss about your accomplishment. Instead, be prepared to ask questions. For instance, you can ask:

  • “How do you feel that accomplishment impacted our team goals?”

  • “What do you think about my [insert amazing accomplishment here]?”

  • “What do you think we could have done to improve [insert amazing accomplishment here]?

By presenting your brags as questions, you provide an opportunity for acknowledgment and real feedback at the same time. It might seem like fishing for a compliment. In reality, it is a way to explore whether your perspective on the big wins aligns with that of whomever you are negotiating with.

If you get the compliments you are expecting, a door opens to new questions:

  • “Considering [amazing accomplishment], what do you think is the next step for me to get to [insert long-term goal]?”

  • “How does [amazing accomplishment] affect your view of my long-term goal of [insert goal]?”

The answer to those questions can then lead into your closing question. For example, you could ask:

  • “To help me get to [long-term goal], I need to know that I can be [wherever you want to be] within the next 90 days. Do I have your support?”

Such questions are not meant to provide a precise script to follow, but rather to help you approach negotiating from a new perspective. The best negotiations are rarely achieved by straightforwardly selling your idea. Rather, effective negotiators pose strategic and thoughtful questions that lead the other party to a conclusion and secure lasting buy-in.