How To Get Buy-In With The 3 Most Effective Communication Techniques


As you know by now, a negotiation is an information gathering process. It is a bad move to try and start a negotiation by attempting to get the other side to understand you. Just like Stephen Covey says "seek to understand before being understood." Here are the three most effective communication techniques to help you get buy-in.


Even if you are talking to someone that specifically says "give me your sales pitch" or "explain your value proposition," they are simply having trouble articulating their needs, and they are hoping you say something that makes sense to them. As we say in the book, "hope is not a strategy," even if you are not the one who is being hopeful. Your job as a negotiator is to not only create an environment where they can accurately articulate their needs, but also one where they trust you with information that might affect their leverage.

We have a list of 9 negotiation skills we refer to as the N9. One of the skills on this list that we have identified as a necessary Black Swan retrieval tactic is called calibrated questions. Simply put these are limited to What, How, and sometimes Why questions only! There is something about the way what or how questions hit the brain that actually makes people stop... and think. A great side benefit of a well placed calibrated question is it puts the issue of solving the problem completely on the counterpart. We need them making decisions if we are to obtain their buy-in

3 Calibrated Questions to Get Buy-In:

1. How does this fit?

It is sometimes imperative to ask questions that a counterpart has to run by people on their team. This question is also designed to get the person asked to take a step back and look at the problem holistically. 

2. What makes you ask?

This is what we contend should be the answer to every question you get. We all have heard the cliche' "the question behind the question is more important." We also know that people are not good at asking questions. So understanding that what are we letting ourselves in for if we flat out answer everything asked of us?

For those of you worried about negative responses to what makes you ask. Be prepared to say, "I always want to make sure that I answer your questions to the fullest of my ability. At no point do I want you to feel misled."

FYI - "Why do you ask?" is not the same question. 

3. How do we know your team is on board?

There is an idea in hostage negotiation called "proof of life." Typically in the movies, it is similar to your average security question for your bank log in - "What was the make of you first car?". Something Chris and his team did was expand this idea out to a calibrated question.

In business, we have "the proof of life of the deal." There is always a team on the other side. It is extremely rare that you would run into someone that makes decisions all alone. Even if you're speaking to someone that is a one man shop, there is still someone on this earth that they confide in.

This question is designed not only to unify the team on the other side, but the answer will also indicate whether or not they actually plan on doing business with you and honoring agreements.

If you are creative enough every single question that could possibly be asked can be shaped into a what or how question. Sometimes you may need to reword slightly, and it will be worth the effort. I will tell you my favorite questions are how based. I think it is because there are very few times when people ask how. Maybe it is ego or pride, a feeling of weakness to not already know the answer, who knows. Human nature tells us people like to prove how smart they are by talking, sometimes getting the other side to talk about things that lead to Black Swans is the hardest part. Use these three effective communication techniques and calibrate your questions.

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About The Author

Brandon Voss is the President of The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.