In mediation as in many aspects of business and life in general asking questions is important to the successful outcome of any endeavor. When you’re in school you are taught that there is no such thing as a stupid question. The motive behind that thinking is that students have to be taught not to be afraid to ask questions.
This same thinking finds its way into business coaching and training models and this sometimes does more harm than good. By the time someone has entered the business arena in whatever capacity that person should already know that asking questions is important; so the real question, pardon the pun, is how to ask the right questions. In Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling he sets out a number of axioms about asking questions, and I will offer the following three to illustrate my point.
- What you ask sets the tone and the perception of the other party
- What you ask determines their response
- What you ask makes or breaks the deal
How he addresses these truths is worth reading because they have an almost universal application. In mediating disputes asking the questions in the right way is critical to the success of a mediation. A question phrased incorrectly or carelessly can have an immediate and adverse impact on the progress of a negotiation. Conversely, a well-crafted question can be the catalyst that advances the negotiation process.
The key is being prepared. It sounds simplistic but it’s not. Some mediations allow the mediator time to think about what questions to ask, but others occur with little time to prepare. However, those doing the actual negotiating almost always have some time to think about the questions that need to be asked. That opportunity should never be ignored; otherwise failure is the likely outcome.