To be a great negotiator, you need to be able to listen well - really well! Too often, people try to negotiate by trying to explain why what they want makes sense. To me, being an expert listener is a superpower in negotiations and will deliver you better outcomes.
Too often, negotiators spend the majority of their time talking - and often trying to convince their counterpart to accept the negotiator's own preferred outcome. Newton's third law of motion tells us that "For every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction." In a negotiation, this means that the more we try to push our solution on our counterpart, the more likely they are to pull away to their own solution.
Why do we need to listen?
If we can listen to the other person in a negotiation well, we can achieve three important things.
We understand what is important to the other person. They wont accept any outcome that doesn't meet at least some of their interests. If we don't take the time to learn their interests, it is harder to create options that they will accept.
Listening is an important fool for building rapport and, importantly, builds trust. Well founded trust will make a negotiation not only more productive but also make it a more pleasant experience - particularly for less confident negotiators.
The law of reciprocity tells us that if we take the time to listen to our counterpart, we improve the likelihood that they will listen to us. Just as we may be tempted to focus the negotiation airtime on convincing the other party that we are right, our counterpart may be seeking to do the same. Giving them that airtime and showing we have listened, increases the chances that they will be prepared to listen to our perspective.
How do we listen better?
So if we can agree that listening is important, the question becomes how do we develop this superpower?
While hearing is a sense and happens automatically, listening is a skill. It is the ability to take what we hear and make sense of it. As with all skills, listening needs to be practiced to be done well.
Here’s a few key tips to build your listening superpower
Listen to understand
Think about the last time you negotiated something. As your opponent talked, were you already thinking about how you would respond or focusing on all the things you didn't agree with? Even though these are important things to do, try to put them off until the person is done talking. Pay attention to what is being said before you try to answer.
Your attention should be on the person speaking, not on your own thoughts and feelings.
Listen for what’s not being said
During a negotiation, it's important to not only pay attention to what is said, but also to what is not said. It's possible that the other side is leaving out information and using vague language on purpose. You only need to think of the average politician to know what this looks like.
We also need to figure out what people are trying to say and how they feel. In most negotiations, it's important to understand our counterpart's emotions. If we don't address these intangible interests, even the most sensible solutions won't be taken seriously.
Listen to yourself
One of the challenges of effective listening is that our minds are so busy thinking all the time. We need to quiet this internal chatter to listen effectively. Before a negotiation, make time to sit in silence for a minute or two and recognise what’s going on in your own mind. This can help you to clear space to listen effectively in the negotiation.
Effective listening definitely can be challenging but it’s certainly a superpower worth developing.
For more information about how to negotiate effectively, or for assistance with your next negotiation, contact us for a confidential, no-obligation discussion.