Written by Marijn Overvest | Reviewed by Sjoerd Goedhart | Fact Checked by Ruud Emonds | Our editorial policy

Questioning & Listening Skills — 9 Things You Should Know

Key takeaways

  • Questioning and listening skills are crucial in negotiations.
  • Being silent helps in negotiations, especially when confronted with irrational demands.
  • Short, pertinent, open-ended inquiries are essential to effective questioning.

Questioning and listening skills are very important for the professional negotiator. Having those two skills will give you the edge you need during negotiations.

For this article, we are going to learn the 9 things you need to learn about questioning and listening skills. First, we’ll discuss why they are important and how you can apply these skills to help you land great deals when negotiating. We are also going to tell you the 5 mistakes that you should avoid when asking questions in negotiations.

After reading this article, you should have the necessary questioning and listening skills you need to assess and dominate every negotiation! 

I have created a free-to-download negotiation preparation toolkit template. It’s a PowerPoint file that can help you prepare for your next negotiation. I even created a video where I’ll explain how you can use this template.

Why You Should Stay Quiet And Listen As a Negotiator?

Silence is an effective tactic when you’re negotiating. People tend to talk a lot when they’re nervous, and you might have done this before in one of your negotiations. But when you talk too much, you miss important variables in the negotiation.

So during negotiations, it’s best to be patient and let the other person do most of the talking. When you speak, try to ask open-ended questions like, “What worries you about my proposal?” This helps you figure out what the other side wants.

Additionally, research shows that it’s hard for people to really listen in negotiations. When the other person talks, we often focus on what we’re going to say next instead of actually listening. Sometimes we think a clever response right after they speak is a good move, but it actually shows we weren’t listening at all.

Taking a moment of silence in a negotiation before you reply can help you stop thinking about your own response and listen better. It also lets you use active listening skills like repeating what they said, asking questions, and showing that you understand.

Active listening doesn’t come naturally in negotiations; we usually want to push our own ideas. But when you truly listen, and the other person feels heard, active listening becomes easier. Silence gives you the time you need to be a better listener.

Silence can also be a strong way to deal with unreasonable demands in a negotiation. When the other person asks for something outrageous, just staying quiet can be more effective than arguing. It makes them wonder if you hung up, especially in phone negotiations, and that can make them rethink their offer.

What is Effective Questioning and How Can You Ask These?

An effective question is one that allows you to get the information that you need while also encouraging meaningful conversation that can strengthen your relationship with the other party.

You might wonder, “How can I ask good questions when negotiating?” Well, the best way for you to get better at asking questions is to practice asking them more.

But, here’s something important to remember: think about what kind of questions you’re asking, how you say them, the order you ask them, and how you set them up.

Using open-ended questions is a smart way for you to ask questions effectively. These are questions that need more than just a yes or no answer. They’re really good when you want to find out a lot of information. There are a couple of important reasons why they work well.

First, they don’t put people on the spot with questions that have quick answers. So, they can help keep things calm.

Second, they make people want to say more. An open-ended question naturally makes people explain and give details instead of just saying one word.

Closed-ended questions are okay to use in some situations. There are moments in a conversation when you want a short and clear answer.

But usually, when you’re negotiating, using open-ended questions is the way to go. Especially at the start when both sides are trying to figure out what each other wants.

Here’s another tip: you can make your questions sound less like an interrogation by giving some background first.

Instead of saying, “Do you think this deadline is too tight?” you can say, “Usually, big projects like this need at least three months. Can you tell me how you plan to do it in two months?” This can make the other person feel more comfortable and willing to talk.

9 Stepsto Effective Questioning and Listening

When it’s time to stay quiet and listen, you’ll need to fix your ears and understand what the other party is saying so you can catch information when needed. There are about 9 key steps on how to effectively listen and ask the right questions:

1. Listen through Body Movement

One can tell that you are interested in listening to what someone else has to say through body language. Sit quietly with your body facing the other party while doing so comfortably. Nod when asking questions that reaffirm or mirror what the other party said. Sit straight and look the other person in the eye. Do not ever slouch when the other party is trying to communicate with you.

2. Ask Short Questions

Short questions reveal short answers. And shorter answers help you ask more questions. While negotiations do take time, not beating around the bush also helps. With shorter questions, you can formulate more questions during the entire negotiation.

3. Ask Relevant Questions

Why ask questions that are not relevant to negotiations? When asking questions, ask those that are very important to the negotiations. Anything else should be ignored, unless you’re trying to break the ice.

4. Listen through Reaffirming the Statement / Question

Another sign that shows you were listening is through reaffirming what the other party just said. This is also called mirroring. You can use this when asking a question that needs clarification.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

During negotiations, open-ended questions can be used for you to fish out more information. Doing so also helps in gauging the other party. For example, you can ask an open-ended question to gauge the mood of each member of the opposing party. Through this, you’ve already gained a lot of information.

6. Listen without distractions

Don’t talk with your teammate while someone from the other party is speaking. Not only is it considered rude and unprofessional, but you might miss important information by not listening intently. Also, find a place where there are no distractions. A family restaurant is simply not the environment you need for an important negotiation!

7. Listen in Complete Silence

The only way to listen properly is to be quiet. Silence is your friend when someone else is speaking to you or to everyone. Everyone has their turn to talk, so do be quiet, listen in for anything interesting, and allow the other party or another member of your team to finish what they’re talking about.

8. Ask as a habit

Effective communication skills always begin through habit. So, make it a habit to always ask questions before, during, and especially after negotiations. Information is key. Asking questions gives you more information. That makes sense, right?

9. Ask questions without interrupting

When someone is asking questions, please don’t interrupt. Let them ask the question directly and they’ll also do the same when it’s your team’s turn to ask questions.

Mistakes to AvoidWhen Asking Questions in Negotiations

You might be wondering how to ask good questions in negotiations. Well, it’s essential to think carefully about your questions instead of just asking the first thing that comes to mind.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when you’re asking questions in negotiations:

1. Repeating what’s already been answered

It can be frustrating for both parties if you ask a question that’s already been answered. Stay engaged in the conversation, particularly when you’re uncertain about a topic, to ensure your questions add value instead of causing irritation.

2. Going off-topic

In negotiation settings, it’s crucial to stay focused on the matter at hand. Avoid introducing unrelated issues that can divert attention from the main discussion. Instead, jot down these concerns and address them at a more appropriate time.

3. Opinions disguised as questions

Sometimes, we inadvertently insert our opinions into questions. For example, asking, “Don’t you think we should…” is more of a statement than a genuine question. It’s vital to be direct and ask real questions to obtain meaningful answers.

4. Asking ambiguous questions

To get clear and relevant responses, it’s essential to ask well-structured and unambiguous questions. Avoid bombarding the other party with a multitude of inquiries at once, as this can overwhelm everyone involved.

5. Talking to the wrong person

You must ensure that you’re directing your questions to the right person in the negotiation. Avoid approaching the most convenient individual and instead identify who possesses the most relevant information or authority to address your specific questions in the negotiation.

Procurement Expert’s Insights About Questioning and Listening Skills

For this article, we asked an experienced procurement expert to share her insights to help procurement professionals with questioning and listening skills.

Hilce Vallenilla
Procurement Manager, Sanofi

LinkedIn Profile: linkedin.com/in/hilce-vallenilla

1. From your experience, what is the most important thing you learned about having good questioning and listening skills?

Clear communication is essential for mutual understanding. To avoid any potential issues during a conversation, it’s crucial to ensure that both parties fully comprehend each other’s message.

Sometimes, misunderstandings can arise when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. To clarify and confirm mutual understanding, strong questioning, and active listening skills are vital. These skills can help foster a more productive and harmonious exchange of information.

2. What tips can you give procurement professionals to improve their listening and questioning skills?

Mastering effective communication involves a two-fold approach: attentive listening and sharp observation of body language. It’s essential to resist the urge to formulate your response while someone else is speaking. Instead, focus on absorbing their message entirely. This not only allows you to respond assertively but also demonstrates genuine engagement.

Additionally, when posing questions, clarity and respect should be at the forefront. Avoid any semblance of misdirection; be straightforward and considerate in your inquiries. A keen awareness of body language further enhances your understanding, facilitating a more meaningful and respectful exchange.

3. What do most people get wrong about having questioning and listening skills?

It is a common misconception that questioning and listening skills involve interrupting or talking over the other party. However, effective communication requires active and attentive listening to fully comprehend the message being conveyed.

Unfortunately, some people tend to underestimate the importance of patiently absorbing information before responding. It’s crucial to recognize that talking over someone else not only hinders comprehension but also diminishes the quality of the interaction. Developing the discipline to truly listen leads to more meaningful conversations and strengthens overall communication skills.

Conclusion

Effective questioning is a fundamental skill in negotiations, and it’s worth taking the time to refine this skill.

By avoiding common pitfalls such as repeating questions, straying off-topic, disguising opinions as questions, asking ambiguous questions, and addressing the wrong person, you can enhance your ability to navigate negotiations successfully. Also, this will allow you to build a more meaningful relationship with the other party.

Remember that well-crafted questions, presented thoughtfully and at the right time, can lead to valuable insights, have more productive discussions, and ultimately help you achieve your negotiation goals.

So, approach negotiations with a strategic and considerate approach to questioning, as it can make a significant difference in the outcomes you achieve.

Frequentlyasked questions

Why are questioning and listening skills crucial for a professional negotiator?

Effective questioning and listening skills enhance a negotiator’s ability to gather information, understand the other party’s perspective, and build stronger relationships, ultimately leading to successful negotiations.

How does silence play a role in negotiations?

Silence is a powerful tactic in negotiations. It allows the other party to express themselves fully without interruptions and gives you the opportunity to listen actively, understand their needs, and respond thoughtfully.

How can body language contribute to effective listening in negotiations?

Positive body language, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding, and sitting attentively, signals genuine interest and engagement. It conveys to the other party that you are actively listening and valuing their input.

About the author

My name is Marijn Overvest, I’m the founder of Procurement Tactics. I have a deep passion for procurement, and I’ve upskilled over 200 procurement teams from all over the world. When I’m not working, I love running and cycling.

Marijn Overvest Procurement Tactics