How Negotiators Can Become Better Listeners

The key to a successful negotiation is to listen well
The key to a successful negotiation is to listen well
Image Credit: Chris (a.k.a. MoiVous)

As good as our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques may be, it turns out that we may be missing one of the most important skills that a negotiator must have: the ability to listen well. During a negotiation, it can be very difficult to listen well to the other side when they are disagreeing with you. It can take both time and practice for us to become better listeners. One of our biggest problems with becoming better listeners is that we have a real temptation to talk instead of listen. This fault seems to increase the more educated a negotiator is and the more they know about the topic at hand. I’ve got some bad news for you: smart people are most prone to making the mistake of not listening. How can we go about becoming better listeners?

Prepare To Listen

So how do you go about preparing for a negotiation? All too often we are driven by anxiety and so we tend to prepare for negotiation by writing down what we want to say. The problem with doing this is that it sets us up to do lots of telling and little listening. If instead you prepare to listen during your next negotiation and your preparation includes making a list of the other side’s interests, you are likely to discover that you don’t understand them as well as you should. You can use these blanks in your survey of the other party’s interests to create the questions you will ask when you sit down at the table. What you’ll find is that if you enter a negotiation with a list of questions rather than a list of arguments, you are more likely to do the smart thing and probe the other side’s interests.

Make Listening A Habit

For some unknown reason, negotiators often wait for our most important negotiations to focus on changing our (non-)listening habits. What this means for us is that our less-important negotiations are key to developing our skills. These types of discussions don’t even have to be “negotiations” per se. The next time you find yourself disagreeing with anyone — whether your significant other, a friend or a colleague – use this opportunity to see how many questions you can ask in a row without presenting your own point of view. If you wanted to, you could even time yourself to see how long you can keep inquiring without giving your opinion. You may have already guessed it, but this is harder than it sounds. One thing that you can do is to set benchmarks for this exercise, and try to ask more questions each time. Each time that you do this, you’ll be developing your listening habit.

Use The Reward System

Guess what? We are all willing to do things if we think that we’ll get rewarded for doing them. What this means when it comes to listening during a negotiation is that if you get some kind of reward for listening, you’ll do it more. If you’d like to get some practice doing this you can do an exercise with someone close to you, such as your parent, partner or child. Bring up an ongoing dispute that you’ve had with them. Tell them that you’re worried you don’t understand their viewpoint well enough and that you want to learn more about it. Ask questions until you stop learning anything new and then summarize their view. Your goal should be to understand the other side’s perspective well enough, and summarize it fairly enough, that they say, “Yes, that’s right!”

Once you’ve done this, you’ll now be at the hard part. Don’t end things by delivering your viewpoint. Instead, simply say, “Thanks for helping me understand.” Then wait and see what they do next.

In many cases this exercise can have a big impact. When the other side hears you summarize what they have been telling you, all of sudden their desire to fight you goes away. What they really wanted was for you to understand their point. Once they become convinced that you understand them, they have no need to peruse the matter any further and they’ll let the issue drop. You were able to resolve a dispute simply by taking the time to listen to the other person.

What All Of This Means For You

Every negotiator wants to become a better negotiator. We work to improve our ability to present facts and to convince the other side to go along with our proposals. However, it turns out that we may be bypassing one of the most important negotiating skills that we need in order to be successful: listening. Becoming a better listener is a hard thing to do. However, if we know how to go about doing it, then we can make it happen.

In order to do a good job of listening during a principled negotiation, we need to prepare to listen before we go into a negotiation. Using a list of questions will provide you with an opportunity to find out more about the other side’s interests. Becoming a better listener does not just happen. Instead, we need to take the time to practice our listening skills. One way to become a better listener is to use a reward system. We can practice by listening to other people describe problems and then providing them with a summary of what they have said.

It is a bit amazing that something as simple as becoming a better listener can help us to improve our negotiating skills. However, realizing that you need to improve your listening skills is only the first step. Once you know what you need to do, you then have to do it. If you follow these suggestions, then you’ll quickly become a better listener. Once you’ve mastered this important skill, your negotiations should go much easier.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: How can you determine if you are doing a good job of listening in a negotiation?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Negotiator Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Negotiator Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Negotiators need to take the time to develop their listening skills so that they can do a better job of reaching a deal in their next negotiation