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Question Mark

Horace McDonald
Question [Converted]
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In the last 2 years my wife and I have treated ourselves to a bit of winter sun. She needs it more than I do and it certainly helps to break up the monotony of the British winter and this year’s has been a particularly miserable one.

We were on an island much frequented by the British and I settled down to watch Liverpool vs. Chelsea compete in the EFL Cup Final in one of two restaurants in the complex we were staying in. I had a table by myself and in front of me were 3 men (who I later discovered were Wigan FC fans) and a young man behind me who supported Spurs. Whilst watching the game, it became clear that the adjacent restaurant was also showing the game which was confirmed when we heard a shout when Liverpool scored and realised that the feed to the other restaurant was slightly ahead of ours. On spotting the young man who was watching the game sporting his (slightly too small) Liverpool shirt, we asked him to come over to us and he duly obliged and sat with me.

The young man Mark (not is real name, I’ve always wanted to write that) was neurodiverse and we ended up forming quite a bond. His way of communicating was primarily by asking lots of very direct questions, which I found rather refreshing. We shared information about where we lived, whether I’d stayed at the compound previously and he was particularly interested on why I wasn’t consuming alcohol at the same rate as the others nearby.

Mark left the table towards the end of the game as he was being picked up by his parents with whom I had a brief conversation. It was pleasing when one of the Wigan fans complimented me on how good I’d been with Mark.

The art of good questioning is fundamental to negotiation. At Scotwork we hold very dear the importance of understanding the other party’s position and to do this we need to prepare and ask lots of questions, which not only provides information, but also enables us to test the assumptions we have made in preparation. People often find questioning difficult, either because they fear that they will get an unfavourable response, or that they feel they are imposing. Questioning is one of the traits that children are more comfortable with than adults, much like their ability to see the word NO as the start of a persuasion exercise rather than the end.

As negotiators we have a choice to make as to whether we are direct or more considered in our questioning approach and it’s important to moderate this depending on how we expect our counterparty to respond to these different approaches. Mark did not appear to have that luxury and understanding and not being offended by it was key.

Mark’s shotgun approach to questioning was exemplified when he walked past me by the pool the following morning…

‘Did you go out for dinner last night…?’

‘What did you eat…?’

‘Was it good…?’

‘What’s your favourite food…’?

‘Did you have anything to drink with it…?’

‘What did your wife have to eat?’

‘Did she have a drink…?’

Etc…

Whilst the person on the receiving end may have felt a little challenged by Mark’s barrage questioning technique, it worked for him and as we’d already had a relationship, it was more than fine by me. Always better to ask the question than not, as you never know what you might learn – good or bad and if it’s the latter the earlier you know the answer the better able you will be to finding a solution…

Horace McDonald
More by Horace McDonald:
Music to my Ears
High Bar of Collaboration
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