What Is The Most Important Skill For A Negotiator To Have?

Becoming an active listener can help to get better negotiation results
Image Credit: knowingPark

Negotiators are always looking for ways to become better. We’ll read books, we’ll attend courses, and we’ll talk with the experts in order to develop new negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. Our ultimate goal is to find a way to make our next negotiation go quicker and more smoothly as we work our way towards getting the deal that will meet the needs of both sides. However, it turns out that one of most powerful skills that we need to have in order to get what we want from a negotiation may be right before us. Or, a better way to say this, it may be on the sides of our head: our ears.

Listen Better To Negotiate Better

It turns out that negotiators who want to work on their negotiation skills in order to lead to optimal negotiated agreements need to become better listeners. However, it’s not enough to become just a better listener, what we really need to do is to develop our ability to do active listening. Most negotiators would argue that there is a lot of value in having good listening skills. Developing skillful active listening can calm tensions, break the impasse, and get you the information you need to build creative negotiating deals. However, most people overestimate their ability to deploy this key negotiation skill, while also lacking an accurate understanding of the concept of just exactly what active listening is.

What Are The Listening Skills That We Need For Successful Negotiations?

A lot of negotiators make the mistaking of believing that active listening means sitting patiently while the other side talks. Active listening also does not simply entail saying “I understand” or establishing good eye contact. Instead, active listening is a dynamic process that can be broken down into three different negotiating behaviors: paraphrasing, inquiry, and acknowledgment.

Negotiation example in real life: Suppose you’re a supplier of a state-of-the-art trash compactor. You submit a written sales proposal to the manufacturer.

At your initial meeting with the buyer’s rep, she asserts: “Your proposal doesn’t give us the assurances we need that you can successfully ramp up production if demand skyrockets. Frankly, we believe that your price per unit is unacceptable. We think you have a great product, but if you’re not going to work with us, we’re prepared to find someone else who will.”

Here’s how you might respond using characteristics of negotiation styles that incorporate active listening:

  • Paraphrase: “It sounds as if you’re satisfied with our trash compactor overall. But if I understand correctly, you need me to assure you that we can increase production if large orders come in. You’re also concerned about our proposed per-unit price and our willingness to work with you to create an acceptable arrangement. Have I captured what your main points are?”
  • Inquire: “You mentioned that you found our proposed price for the trash compactor to be unacceptable. Help me understand how you came to this conclusion. Let’s also talk about how we might set up a pricing structure that you find more reasonable.”
  • Acknowledge: “It sounds as if you’re quite disappointed with various elements of our trash compactor proposal, so much so that you have serious concerns about whether we’ll be able to work together over the long haul.”

The skillful negotiator orchestrates each of these aspects of active listening to draw out the other party’s concerns and feelings, with an eye toward asserting his own viewpoint and engaging in joint problem-solving.

What All Of This Means For You

We all want to become better negotiators, however, it’s not always clear how we can make this happen. However, it turns out that if we are willing to take the time to simply become better listeners, then we can improve the outcomes of every negotiation. The challenge that we now face to find out just exactly how we can become better listeners.

It turns out that we don’t just have to become better listeners, we have to become better active listeners. This is a key skill that can allow us to get the information that we need to do a better job of negotiating. Active listening is a dynamic process that can be broken down into three different negotiating behaviors: paraphrasing, inquiry, and acknowledgment. When we paraphrase we repeat back to the other side what we have heard them say. When we inquire, we ask the other side questions about what they have told us. When we acknowledge, we simply agree that they have issues with what we have proposed to them.

Becoming good active listeners can put us on the path do becoming better negotiators. If we take the time to truly listen the other side, hear what they are saying, and then communicate back to them what we believe that we have heard, we’ll be doing a better job of communicating. Mastering this skill is what will allow us to achieve the deals that we want to get out of our next principled negotiation.

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

Question For You: When do you think that you should use acknowledgement in a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Nobody ever said that this negotiating thing was going to be easy to do. This can be especially true when you are involved in a negotiation that has to do with territory, control, rights, or power. Turf battles can arise over any type of scarce or sacred resource in a negotiation. Often in such battles, two or more groups view the other side as the enemy and its own side as above reproach. When anticipating a group negotiation, negotiators tend to view the other group as inferior to our group on many dimensions, including intelligence, competence, and trustworthiness. In addition, groups in conflict tend to see the other’s positions as more extreme than they actually are. Just exactly how should we handle situations like this?