How Negotiators Can Learn To Listen To Difficult People

Our goal is to use our listening skills to get better deals
Our goal is to use our listening skills to get better deals Image Credit: Peter Grifoni

Every negotiation that we enter into means that we are going to be dealing with a different set of people. We always hope that we can work well with the other side. However, this is not always the case. There will be situations in which the other side turns out to be a difficult person to deal with. In situations like this, our chances of reaching a deal with them becomes at risk. This means that we need to develop the negotiating skills that will be required to find a way to work with difficult people in order to have a successful negotiation.

The Power Of Listening During A Negotiation

As negotiators we need to understand that listening is a critical negotiation skill. Every negotiation adviser agrees on that. As negotiators we all know that this is easier said than done. Every negotiator that I know struggles to actually focus on listening especially when someone is disagreeing with them. We have to understand that it takes time and practice for behavior to catch up with one’s goals. The temptation to talk instead of listen increases the more educated a negotiator is and the more they know about the topic at hand. Ironically, smart negotiators are the ones who are the most prone to making the mistake of not doing a good job of listening. So the big question that we are all facing is what can we do to align our behavior with our goal of being a better listener?

Always Prepare For A Negotiation

When we are getting ready for our next negotiation we may find what we are being driven by anxiety. In situations like this we tend to prepare for negotiation by writing down what we want to say. The result of doing this is that it sets us up to do lots of talking and very little listening. In contrast, if your preparation includes making a list of the other side’s interests, you are likely to discover that you really don’t understand them as well as perhaps you should. These missing pieces in your survey of the other party’s interests should be your prompts for the questions that you will ask when you sit down at the table. If you enter into a negotiation with a list of questions rather than a list of arguments, you are more likely to do the smart thing and spend your time probing the other side’s interests.

Listening During A Negotiation Is A Habit

If you played tennis and you had been invited to play at Wimbledon, you would not try out your new backhand in the finals there. However, we often wait for our most important negotiations to focus on changing our listening habits. That’s why we need to understand that our less-important negotiations are the key to developing our listening skills. In all honesty, these events don’t even have to be “negotiations” per se. The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with someone – whether a friend or a colleague or your significant other – 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. What you’ll find out is that it’s harder than it sounds. You need to set benchmarks for this exercise, and try to ask more questions each time.

Reward Yourself For Doing A Good Job Of Listening

Let’s face it, if you get some kind of reward for listening, you’ll do it more. In order to get you to do more listening here’s an exercise to do with someone close to you, such as your partner, parent, or child. Start things off by raising 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. 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!” Now comes the hard part: don’t end by delivering your viewpoint. Instead, simply say, “Thanks for helping me to understand.” Then wait and see what they do next. This exercise can have a big impact on the other side’s view of your understanding of their point.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators we are always looking for ways that we can become a better negotiator. It turns out that one of the simplest ways to understand what the other side wants and how we can reach a deal with them may have been sitting in front of us all along. What we need to do is to learn how to talk less during a negotiation and listen more. Although this may sound like it is something that is easy to do, it turns out that it can be quite difficult to do well.

The problem that negotiators run into is that we all struggle to try to do a good job of listening to what the other side is saying. Before a negotiation starts, we need to prepare by identifying what we don’t know about the other side’s positions. In order to become a better listener during a negotiation, we need to take the time and practice our listening skills in other discussions with people. We need to reward ourselves for doing a good job of listening to other people. We can do this by listening and then summarizing what the other side is saying.

No, it’s not easy to switch from being the person who does the talking to being a person who is good at listening to what others are saying. However, it turns out that if we can master this skill, we can have a better chance to find ways to reach a deal with the other side. Take the time to work on your listening skills and you just might be surprised at how much easier your negotiating becomes.

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

Question For You: What is the best way to tell if you are listening enough during a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you want to reach an agreement in your next negotiation using all of your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques, then you are going to have to get the other side to agree with what you have proposed. However, sometimes the other side might be willing to agree with you, but people within their organization may be preventing them from doing this. What this means for you as a negotiator is that you are going to have to find a way to get those people on your side before you can get the deal that you are looking for.