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Asking Open-Ended Questions Increases Personal Gains In Negotiations

Many negotiation books exhort negotiators to ask more open-ended questions. But do people really need such encouragement? We analyzed 37,529 speech turns from 238 dyadic negotiations to estimate the frequency and effectiveness of asking questions (Study 1). Natural language processing revealed that less than 9% of negotiators’ speech turns contain an open- ended question. Yet, we found a robust positive linear association between negotiators’ propensity to ask open-ended questions and individual negotiation gains. In contrast, asking closed-ended questions and making statements were unrelated to gains. At the turn level, open- ended questions elicit responses that are twice as long compared to close-ended questions and statements—an information advantage that partially explains why inquisitive negotiators gain more. Providing experimental evidence, we then instructed some participants to either prepare open-ended questions or statements before negotiating via live chat. Participants in the open- ended question group got significantly higher individual gains than participants in the statement group (Study 2). Finally, we examined whether negotiators were aware of how few questions they ask by comparing participants’ perceived and actual communication behavior (Study 3). We find that negotiators estimate they have asked over 3 times more open-ended questions than they actually did. Taken together, these results provide robust evidence for the widely held notion that negotiators spend too much time influencing rather than learning.

Matteo Di Stasi
ESADE Business School, Universitat Ramon Llull


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