Article | Negotiation | November 2012

Are You Ready for the 'Hardest Question'?

by James K. Sebenius


Negotiation preparation entails assessing each side's interests and no-deal options, imagining possible agreements, factoring in personality and culture, thinking through moves and possible countermoves, and so forth. Yet standard preparation often neglects the "hardest question(s)" with which one may be confronted. Such questions are often manipulative tactics deceptively masquerading as innocent queries about one's deeper interests, other options, or commitment. To avoid being flustered or trapped into giving an answer that puts a negotiator at a disadvantage, one should 1) identify in advance the hardest questions—tactically, emotionally, and/or ethically—to answer; 2) brainstorm a range of possible answers—drawing on several classes of response—and choose the best; 3) practice verbalizing the most promising answers in a concise, confident manner; and 4) use the "hardest question" as a gateway to fuller tactical and strategic preparation.

Keywords: negotiation; tactics; hard bargaining; Negotiation;


Sebenius, James K. "Are You Ready for the 'Hardest Question'?" Negotiation 15, no. 11 (November 2012): 4–5.