Four Ways to Keep the Other Side Talking During your Next Negotiation

by Philip Williams

This blog is a follow-on from 9 Steps to Breaking the Silence in Negotiation which looked at ways to talk to someone who does not want to talk to you.

In this blog, also based on our #askanegotiator podcast series, we will look at negotiations where the other side is talking, yet being very uncooperative and uncommunicative.

So, your negotiating counterpart is talking, but how do you up the levels of engagement and turn the dialogue from a trickle to a flow?

Before reading on, we suggest you take a look at the above-mentioned blog as it lays the foundation for the following four elements. It can be accessed here.

1. Presence

Presence applies equally to our previous scenario where the other side is not engaging at all.

When the flow of information is frustratingly slow it is incredibly important to remain resilient or present, and it is more than just ‘hanging on’ or ‘keeping going’.

Often, we encounter situations that are difficult, sensitive or uncomfortable and the tendency can be to bolt – “well if you don’t want to talk to me, I’m out of here” or “some other time, I must be off”.

Your physical presence communicates a whole host of messages in a non-verbal way. How you present yourself can demonstrate commitment, encouragement, buy-in and a sense you aren’t going to give up on the other side or the deal at stake.

The main components of achieving this are:

  • The ‘Listening Position’
  • Bite-Size Chunks
  • Simplicity
  • Rhythm and Tone

For an in-depth look at what these are, read our other blog here.

They are integral not only to get people to talk but to keep them talking.

2. The Questioning Funnel

When someone is not very communicative, try and reflect on why that is.

Are they unsure of you or your company? Is there a fear around how you will react to what they have to say? Do they trust you or your team or even theirs? Is the topic too personal or painful? Are they cautious about giving too much away?

Whatever it might be, it is fundamentally about their safety and security.

Therefore, your challenge is to change the circumstances under which they feel able to contribute.

This is done using the ‘Questioning Funnel’ and ‘Active Listening Skills’ (see next section).

The funnel is widest at the top to signify space and choice. This where you should deploy open questions which allow people the freedom to express themselves as they wish.

For example, TED Questions.

Tell me…

Explain to me…

Describe to me…

This allows them to fill the void with what is important to them. What you are doing is listening for a nugget of information or a particular word which enables you to dive down deeper into what they are saying.

3. Active Listening Skills

Once you have got them talking with TED questions, now use your active listening skills to unlock more information.

Start with simple techniques such as silence/pauses, minimal verbal and non-verbal encouragers and the occasional paraphrase to demonstrate you are listening and to isolate key points.

Make sure you always combine this with the components of ‘presence’ (section 1). As the flow of the conversations improves, deploy summaries to mark the progress that has been made and to give them the opportunity to affirm or correct you, both of which increase their engagement level.

As you uncover more and more, you will encounter topics or areas that are of interest. When this happens, move down the questioning funnel and begin to ask more probing questions to highlight where you think the useful information is.

It might be that you require quite precise information and therefore may have to use a closed question which provides a much more succinct clear answer. This is ok because you have them talking and are starting to hopefully build rapport.

Don’t be afraid to move up and down the funnel as needed, allowing the open questions to uncover areas which need to be explored in greater detail.

The ability to execute this relies on the continual use of pauses, encouragers, paraphrases, summaries and isolating keywords.

4. ‘Measures of Success’

All being well, you will have made significant progress.

Your once reluctant talker is now engaging in a full-blown conversation.

As they start to talk more and more, your task will shift from using techniques to encourage dialogue to being quiet and listening, absorbing as much as you can.

It is at this point you can be brave and perhaps probe into what might be a more sensitive or contentious issue. Although difficult, these areas are often the sticking points that must be overcome in order to secure a deal.

A lot of people worry about doing this, fearing it will upset progress.

But, like with most things, it is all in the timing.

You couldn’t confidently ask such questions at the start of the conversation as the buy-in and rapport wasn’t there.

By deploying the above steps (and the nine in the previous blog), you should have shown them you are:

  • Listening
  • Understanding them
  • Non-judgmental
  • Non-threatening

What you will have done is change the circumstances under which they were willing to talk to you.

If you would like to receive the regular #askanegotiator podcasts, you can sign-up here, under ‘Negotiation’.



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