Getting buy-in to any plan will require good communication and negotiation skills. Your job as a negotiator is to create an environment where the other side can not only accurately articulate their needs, but also trust you with information that might affect their leverage.

One way to do that is by asking calibrated questions. Simply put, calibrated questions are questions that begin with what, how, or sometimes, why. There’s something about the way these questions hit the brain that makes people stop and think. Your counterpart won’t be able to provide a one-word answer to a question like this: How are we supposed to do that?

If you’ve been reading this newsletter regularly, you’ll know that I often refer to The Black Swan Group as the source for the material I’m presenting. Their methods are used in the direst of situations when a human life is on the line. They work for one reason alone. They were dealing with a human, and the negotiators understood human behavior from an emotional standpoint.

Chris used the knowledge gained through hostage negotiation and applied it to the business world though his company, The Black Swan Group. Well, enough qualifying the source, here’s what they say about getting buy in.

Here are three examples of calibrated questions and why they work.

1. How does this fit?

This question is designed to get your counterpart to take a step back and look at the problem holistically. The other side might not know the answer. But this is a good thing. Sometimes, you need to ask questions that your counterpart will have to run by people on their team (e.g., the ultimate decision maker).

2. What makes you ask?

As the old saying goes, the question behind the question is more important.

We know that people are generally not good at asking questions. On the other hand, asking this calibrated question returns the volley to your counterpart, who will then reveal the question behind the question.

Are you concerned that you’ll get a negative response to this question? Don’t be. If the other side seems frustrated by your response, say something like this: “I always want to make sure that I answer your questions to the fullest of my ability. At no point do I want you to feel misled.”

One last thing: “Why do you ask?” is not the same question. The other side might respond to this question with something like: “Because it’s my job.” You’ll get a much more specific answer by leading with what.

3. How do I know your team is on board?

There is sometimes a team on the other side. It’s not common that you be speaking with someone who makes decisions all on their own. And even if you're speaking to someone who is a one-person shop, it’s possible (and likely) there is still someone with whom they confide in and bounce ideas off of.

This question is designed to unify the team on the other side. And the answer will also indicate whether or not they actually plan on buying into your plan and honoring their agreements. Remember, a yes is only meaningful when there is a how after it. Beware of the counterfeit yes.