Calibrated Questions in Negotiation

Entering a negotiation discussion can be daunting, especially if you’re a novice. Successful negotiation requires strong problem-solving, bargaining skills, and willingness to accept concessions to reach mutually beneficial agreements.  


The good news is that most people can reach a win-win solution by leveraging basic negotiation skills. One of the fundamental tactics used by experienced negotiators is the calibrated question. 

This blog will explore everything you need to know about calibrated questions and how you can use them to achieve your negotiation goals and objectives. 

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What are Calibrated Questions?

Calibrated questions are a popular negotiating concept that was developed by a former FBI hostage negotiator. 


They are open-ended questions that typically start with “how” or “what”. Calibrated questions are deliberately designed to keep the conversation flowing by extracting information, uncovering motivations, and introducing new perspectives. 

Why are Calibrated Questions Useful?

Encouraging thoughtful responses

Unlike closed-ended questions, calibrated questions are open-ended and typically require more detailed responses. In negotiations, this encourages both parties to provide more information, which can lead to a better understanding of each other's needs, desires, and concerns.

Challenging assumptions

Asking calibrated questions is an effective tool for challenging assumptions and biases that might influence negotiations. This, in turn, paves the way for a more impartial and logical approach to decision-making.

Managing emotions

Negotiations can sometimes become confrontational and emotionally charged. Calibrated questions can help defuse tension by redirecting the focus toward problem-solving. They also encourage the other party to see things from your perspective without appearing pushy.

Creating a collaborative atmosphere

Calibrated questions create an atmosphere of collaboration rather than confrontation, and encourage both parties to have open and honest discussions. This approach fosters trust and rapport, which are crucial components of successful negotiations.

Facilitating win-win solutions

By uncovering underlying needs and desires, calibrated questions can help negotiators identify potential areas of agreement that create value for both parties. This will help you strengthen relationships and reach mutually satisfactory outcomes.  

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What are Examples of Calibrated Questions?

As mentioned, calibrated questions typically begin with “what” or “how” as these phrases encourage detailed and thoughtful responses. 


Here are some examples of calibrated questions that may be used in negotiations: 

  • What challenges are you currently facing?
  • What other approaches have you considered to address these challenges?
  • What do you think needs to be in place for you to feel comfortable moving forward?
  • What are your main concerns about the proposed solution?
  • How can we balance your priorities with ours to create a fair outcome?
  • How does the proposed solution align with your long-term goals?
  • How did you address issues like these previously?
  • How long are you willing to wait?
  • How does that affect things?

How do You Use Calibrated Questions in Negotiation

Using calibrated questions effectively in negotiation requires skill and a strategic approach. Follow these steps to incorporate calibrated questions into negotiation discussions:

    1. Preparation: Before the negotiation, carefully consider your interests, priorities, and goals. You can then craft calibrated questions to help you navigate through these areas.
  • Active listening:
      Begin by asking open-ended calibrated questions and actively listening to the other party's responses. Pay attention to the information they provide, along with their tone and other emotional cues.
  • Follow-up questions:
      Ask additional questions to gain deeper insights into the other party’s interests and priorities. Adapt your calibrated questions based on new insights and information revealed during the negotiation discussion. 
  • Win-win solutions:
    Work together to come up with innovative solutions that suit the underlying needs and desires of both parties. 

PRO TIP: You should craft calibrated questions carefully and avoid using leading phrases to ensure that the other party’s responses are genuine and unbiased. The timing of calibrated questions is also crucial to maximize impact. Make sure you ask these questions at key stages of the negotiation discussion when the other party is likely to be open to sharing their thoughts. 

Negotiation Training with Scotwork

At Scotwork, we recognize the significance of calibrated questions in mastering the art of negotiation. Our comprehensive negotiation training equips individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to leverage language as a strategic tool. 


Whether negotiating complex business deals, resolving conflicts, or navigating everyday interactions, our training empowers individuals to approach negotiations with confidence and achieve their goals. 


Reach out if you want to find out more about how we can help you harness the power of calibrated questions and become a successful negotiator. 

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