Calibrate your questions.

Questions that begin with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why” move a conversation towards solutions and give your counterpart the illusion of control. It allows the other side to come up with ideas and provides you with information about their mindset. These questions are called “calibrated” because they allow you to simply guide the negotiation in the direction you are asking it to go. Calibrated questions are a way of “asking for help,” which tells the other side you need their intelligence to overcome the problem. This technique can be very helpful with aggressive or egotistical counterparts. When you’re attacked in a negotiation, pause and avoid an angry emotional reaction. Instead, ask your partner a calibrated (“what,” “how,” or “why”) question. This shifts the focus from conflict to a problem/solution conversation.


  1. Begin your questions in a negotiation with “what,” “how,” and on rare occasions “why.”
    You should not begin with anything else. These are open-ended questions that invite your counterpart to expand on their ideas and solutions. Examples:
    1. What about this is important to you?
    2. How would you like me to proceed?
    3. What is most important to you in this deal?
    4. How am I supposed to do that?
    5. Why would you change suppliers and use my company?
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