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Asking for it

When negotiating, questions are critical to your success.

The one who asks the questions is the one who controls the negotiation. In the beginning, use questions to break the ice and feel out your opponent. In the middle, use questions to extract information, generate options and keep your deal on track. At the end, use questions to close.

The open-ended question is your all-purpose tool. These begin with who, what, where, when, how or why. They get your opponent talking because they can't be answered with a simple yes or no.

As you move on, fine-tune your questions. "Why?" or "Why not?" reveal underlying concerns. "What if?" creates alternatives. "Would you mind running the numbers?" neutralizes double talk. Some others: "Why is that fair?" "What would you do if you were me?" "Are you making the same deal with everybody else?"

When closing, questions seal the deal. "If I concede this last point, are we done?" "Where should I send the final contract?"

Sometimes your questions will hit a nerve. Unless you're good at intimidation, don't use questions to browbeat, belittle or brag. And watch your tone. Negotiation is not interrogation. If you give attitude, you'll get attitude.

Remember: Questions are more powerful than answers. You can look up answers. But if you don't ask the right questions, you will be blindsided.

A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Dienerisauthor of Deal Power.

This story appears in the September 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »