Negotiation Training: The Top 4 ‘No-Oriented’ Questions

    

Yes doesn’t always mean yes. This is why shrewd negotiators don’t aim for yes, but instead try to get their counterparts to say no.

In this installment of our negotiation training series, we examine the top four no-oriented questions™ from The Black Swan Group, what they replace, and why you should use them.

 

1. “Is now a bad time to talk?”

Replaces: 

  • “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” 
  • “Is now a good time to talk?”

Why use this:

  • This is a great way to practice getting your repetitions in with no-oriented questions and seeing their effectiveness in action.
  • People feel anxious when they sense you are seeking a yes. This relieves your counterpart from wondering what they are getting themselves into if they agree.
  • People feel safe and secure when they say no. This is a great way to learn this concept.

You will only ever get two answers to this question:

  • “Not at all! It’s never a bad time to talk to you. What have you got?” Or something very close to this. When you get a response like this you now have their complete attention—which is what you were after in the first place.)
  • “Yes, it is a bad time. But I can talk with you at (a time they suggest).” Perfect. Again, this is what you were after—their focused attention.

I’m sure you’re wondering: What if they say yes and don’t give you a good time to talk? 

Consider this: Do you want to be on the phone with someone who responds like that? Someone else out there is waiting for you, and this call is keeping you from them. Move on. 

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2. “Is it a ridiculous idea … ?”

Replaces:    

  • “Is this a good idea?” 
  • “Would you like to do this?”
  • “Does this look like something that would work for you?”
  • “Would you be willing to … ?”

Why use this: 

  • See above re: No. 1. 

This replaces the clarification and micro-commitments of yes-oriented questions.

Also realize that you will often get “No, but …” as a response. The information you get after the “but” is exactly what you need to understand the obstacles standing between you and implementation. This is crucial for solving those obstacles—if they can be solved. If not, you can move on with a clear conscience. 

3. “Are you against … ?”

Replaces: 

  • “Do you agree?” (“Do you disagree?” is also acceptable here as a replacement.)
  • “Will you … ?”
  • “Are you in favor of … ?”
  • “Does this look like something that will work for you?”

Why use this:

It replaces the commitment of yes-oriented questions. This is very similar to the second no-oriented question on this list. Both can also be used in combination for clarification of details and commitment to action.   

4. “Have you given up on … ?”

Replaces:   

  • “Do you still want … ?”
  • “Are you still interested in … ?”
  • Any communication to check in with someone who has stopped communicating with you.

This is also the best way to restart communication!

Why use this: 

  • It is critical to remember the context here! Someone can’t give up on something they haven’t started. This isn’t a replacement for poor opening lines that ask about something the counterpart hasn't even started.

If they are “ghosting” you (i.e., no longer responding), you must account for how you got there. Your communication system leading up to this was designed to give you this outcome.

There are two reasons people stop communicating:

  1. You’re not listening to them.
  2. They lost influence on their side of the table.

If communicating with you was doing them any good, they would still be doing it.

You can’t go back to the approach that led you to this point.

After they respond (and they will respond quickly—be ready), you must do a Summary™ of their perspective to get a “that’s right.”™

“So far, this is what has happened. This is its impact, which is not what you wanted. And now, you are concerned about where this is going.”

If you get anything other than that’s right, followed by more information, you missed something. Actively seek correction to build the relationship and accelerate communication.

Say: “It seems like I’ve missed some important things.”

Label™. Mirror™. Paraphrase. 

Seek Black Swans to reclaim your power and create life-changing negotiations.

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Chris Voss

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.