A good listener asks good questions. Good questions draw out information from your counterpart. Good questions encourage an exchange of information. Good questions direct a discussion to important issues that need to be addressed.
Asking good questions is, like most everything in negotiation, a skill. The key to asking good questions is to have a plan laying out what you want to learn in the exchange.
- Plan your questions in advance of the sit-down meeting. Make an outline of the questions you want to ask. Plan for an exchange of information.
- Make sure your questions as customized to the person with whom you are in discussion. Generic questions can be a turn-off, look phony and be counter-productive. Make sure your questions are understandable. Don’t engage in a snow-job just to impress the other side with your “knowledge.”
- A question should have a purpose. What are you seeking? Facts? Opinions? They are different. Make sure you know why you are asking the question you pose.
- A good question should generate the opportunity for a follow-up question. The follow-up questions drill down into the issue. Have your follow-up questions planned but also listen carefully because an unexpected follow-up question might present itself.
- “Keep it simple stupid!” A good question is brief and it is clear. Long rambling questions covering a multitude of topics can confuse your counter-part. And, there is a good chance you will lose your train of thought.
- Listen to their responses. An answer often segways to a new set of questions.
- Think of the process as a flow chart. If you ask this and they answer “A” that will lead you to ask “B”. If they answer “C”, however, then you might not ask “B” but would pose follow-up question “D.”