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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ask the Right Questions

While it's important to ask questions, asking the wrong questions isn't particularly helpful. In the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury share principles on negotiating. Many of the same principles apply to questioning and living the disciple cycle.

When it comes time to formulate your questions, look at principles instead of positions.

In negotiation, a position is a statement of what you want. "I want a raise." "I want a book deal." "I want this car for $1,000 less."

Positions create a clear winner and a clear loser. Positions are binary statements. Yes or no. You get the raise or you don't. You get the deal or you don't. There's no room for differing opinions outside the proffered options.

Positional questions:
"Are you a Democrat or a Republican?"
"Are you for or against abortion?"
"Do you think gay marriage should be legal?"
"Is it a sin to get drunk?"
"Do I have to go to church on Sunday?"
"Is the bible inerrant?"

Principles are analog statements. They offer a range of opportunities in negotiations. Principles underlie positions. Positions are the symptom, principles are the disease.

Behind the position of wanting a raise might be the principle of wanting to save for retirement. Behind the position of wanting a book deal might be a principle of wanting opportunities to speak and teach. Behind the position of wanting a discount might be a principle of having a maximum monthly budget for the car.

Once the principles are stated and clear, it's possible to be creative and look for other ways to meet the principles rather than just the stated positions.

Principle questions take more time to formulate. In a way, they require diagnosing the issues that lead to the positions. Why does someone want to know if you're a Democrat or a Republican? When you figure out why they're so interested in the positions, you can start to work back toward the principles. For example, in the debate about gay marriage in the US the questions posed don't really address the underlying principles involved.

Conservative people tend to be against gay marriage. They argue that it erodes family values. Their family values are based on moral convictions. The moral convictions rely, largely, on religious teaching. Therefore, the principle is one of religious teaching being applied to civil laws.

The conversation isn't really about gay marriage, it's about State's Rights and the First Amendment of the Constitution. Asking questions about the principles will lead to a variety of answers, not just two. The result is far more messy, but it's also much more productive and helpful.

(Note: the book link earns me a small commission on any purchases).

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