Negotiation success is information dependent. Nobody ever leaves the negotiating table wishing they had less information. But information is also a scarce commodity among negotiators, especially truthful information.
Columbo mastered the art of information gathering in the ’70s sleuth TV series of the same name. Using what’s now dubbed The Columbo Method, the character epitomized how an unassuming, humble, and bumbling style can unearth a goldmine of accurate information. Organizational psychologist guru Adam Grant might call this the “power of powerless communication.”
I grew up on Columbo. That series fueled my love for a good whodunit. What amazes me with every mystery is how the detective — or whoever is solving the mystery — acquires critical and pivotal information. Rarely is it due solely to mistakes made by the crime’s perpetrator. Rather, information is deduced by reason and logic, and/or it is discovered by asking really good and rightly timed questions.
“Just one more thing . . .,” as Columbo would say. The backbone of The Columbo Method, this is the leading line to a key question that can unlock the mystery.
When it comes to information exchange, your job as a negotiator is to either discover or disclose the pivotal information that can move the process forward toward a mutual agreement. On the discovery side, asking really good and rightly timed questions is the key that can turn the lock and open the door. Your discovery questions are designed to get the other party to disclose information, allowing you to put together deals that resolve the conflict at hand.
“Just one more thing . . .” questions are unassuming ambush questions. There are several variants and interpretations of The Columbo Method, but the key principle is this: With trust having been established, truth dribbles out. Trust and truth have a symbiotic relationship. Your style might cultivate trust, but your question generates truth. There are a lot of different questions that could follow the leading “just one more thing . . .” statement, but they all have a similar intent and effect. The intent is to get the other side to confirm something you already suspect to be true. The effect is your counterpart discloses information they might not otherwise have revealed.
Here are some great “just one more thing . . .” questions that you can ask to discover dealmaking information:
- Who else is ________________________?
- When did your ________________?
- Why is that ________________________?
- Where did you _____________?
- How is this ____________?
Any of these discovery questions can be launched at the right time during your negotiation dialogue engagement. However, note that they are all open-ended follow-up questions to information already given. Only now, they’re used as a clincher. The answer to the question confirms, clarifies, commits . . . convicts. There is buy-in. There is overlap. In short, the answer propels the negotiation toward a close, because you now have the information necessary to put the deal together.
Just one more thing: How did your last negotiation go? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Are you asking the right question in the right way and at the right time? Columbo was a master, but there’s a Columbo in all of us. It just takes practice. Don’t go it alone.
We Can Help You Get the Information You Need.
Negotiation success is information dependent. But information is also a scarce commodity among negotiators, especially truthful information. Are you asking the right question in the right way and at the right time to get the information you need? We can help! Drawing on 45 years of real-world negotiating experience, we’ll assist you with getting better deals, saving time, and creating value for all involved — not to mention preserving and even strengthening relationships. Let us partner you with one of our advisers, ensuring that you’ve got the broadest view of your deal.
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