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Let's Talk About It

In negotiation, it helps to know which questions work--and which don't.

This story appears in the July 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

One way to look at negotiation is as an extended volley of Q&A. In the early game, your thoughtful queries will help break the ice, assess character and gauge leverage. In the middle game, they'll help you extract information, generate alternatives and focus the open issues. And in the end game, you will use them skillfully to persuade, pin down and close.

The open-ended question is the closest thing deal-makers have to a Swiss Army knife. These are questions that begin with who, what, where, when, how or why. Because they cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, they will encourage your opponent to talk and, hopefully, give you strategic information. They are valuable at all stages of a deal, but especially so at the beginning, when each side is sizing up the other. Ask them innocently, if you can. Use the power of silence. Listen to the answers carefully. With luck, your opponent will tell you far more than he or she should.

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