“A secret to negotiating is to talk less and ask more.”

Questions have enormous power. They can get us the right information, gain commitment from staff, help us lead more productive meetings, and set priorities. To succeed as a questioner you need to develop both the questioning mentality and the questioning habit. In other words, become a detective. Once you do, you will see your communications improve in every situation — with your boss, a third party, vendors, employees, hotel staff, attendees, and more. Here are just two ways questions can help you:

  1. Improving Your Meetings: Meetings are successful when expectations are met — your expectations, plus those of the attendees, clients, and bosses (internal and external). But you don't know anyone's expectations until you ask for them. Don't accept generalities like “I want the conference to be the best ever.” You can't “do” generalities. Only specifics satisfy. When faced with a generality, ask “What specifically does that mean to you?” Then ask, “Which of these expectations is your highest priority?” After the meeting is over, your job becomes discovering if expectations were met. Evaluation forms are a popular way of assessing a meeting's success, but often only those people who feel strongly — positively or negatively — respond. Those in the middle, though, are perhaps most important. To improve response, have the evaluation form double as an entry for a prize drawing.

    The questions on the form are crucial. For convenience, ask yes-or-no questions and ranking questions. But don't leave out the “free-answer” questions. Ask for specifics and priorities. “What did you like about the meeting?” often gets one- or two-word answers. “Who were the three best speakers and why?” and “What are two improvements you would make to the business agenda if you were planning this conference?” will elicit specific comments.

  2. Improving Your Negotiating Skill: Negotiating starts before you and your counterpart even sit down together. It starts with research. Ask yourself: What is my strategy? What is most important to me? What is most important to the hotel (or other vendor)? What is my counterpart's negotiating style? Are there special circumstances that could give me a leg up at the table? (For example, will your meeting fill a need period for the hotel?) Start asking about your colleagues' experiences with this particular hotel or vendor. In negotiating, knowledge is power. You want to know more about them than they know about you.

A secret to negotiating is to talk less and ask more. Questions put you in control, because people feel compelled to answer them. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn about the other person and the less you will reveal about yourself. When you are caught facing a question, maintain control by turning it around and asking the other person another question — or a diverting question. Get the other person to talk through an ongoing questioning strategy.

You can become a super questioner by cultivating one simple habit: Turn the question “What should I say?” into “What should I ask?”

Dorothy Leeds is author of The 7 Powers of Questions and a consultant and speaker. Reach her at (212) 864-2424, dleeds@dorothyleeds.com and www.dorothyleeds.com.