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What If


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation tactics > What If

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Use the language of possibility to test interest in ideas and introduce concepts gently. Use this method to stimulate their imagination, to get them excited and realize that they could possibly get, and that it may be even better than what they are seeking.

'What if' language can use words such as:

  • What if...
  • How about...
  • Let's try...
  • Suppose...
  • Imagine that...
  • Just consider...

Two places that the 'what if' approach can be used is earlier on, when exploring options, and near the end, when hammering out final details. Early on, you can open up avenues of exploration and discussion. When looking to close the deal, you can also use 'what if' to test out a package, effectively saying 'If I do this, will you agree to the complete deal?'


Let me show you this other car. I know you aren't looking at something this big at the moment, but how about if we could find a way so it would easily fit into your budget.

So we've a loyalty problem with experienced staff. What if we gave a bonus only to those who have been here for at least five years?

What if I give you another 1%? Is that enough to make your people agree to the deal? I'd have to check, but I think I may be able to get it for you.


Asking 'What if' invites them to think beyond their current view. This can be difficult as many people use closed thinking, where they severely limit their consideration of possibilities. This is particularly true in negotiation where they 'know what they want' and do not consider alternatives. They may also be suspicious of any more to introduce new elements, so you need to ensure they have sufficient trust in you before you open the field to new thoughts. Do this with such as listening and talking positively about them. When they seem warmer towards you, act as if you just had an idea and are voicing your thoughts when you say 'what if'.

Talking in the language of possibility is less threatening and hence less likely to trigger objections. It introduces an idea gently, emphasizing that it is just that -- an idea. Then, once they have acknowledged that it is a reasonable proposition, you can increase its perceived value further by explaining how good it is for them.

See also

Possibility Language, Trial Close


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