To be a master negotiator, you need to be a great listener. Too frequently, I see people trying to negotiate by selling their proposal to the other side by talking at them. This is fraught with danger as all people value autonomy. The mere fact we tell someone what to do can reduce our chances of them actually doing it.
Why should we listen?
If we can listen effectively to our negotiation counterpart, we can achieve three key benefits.
Negotiation is the exercise of trying to change someone’s mind. How can you change someone’s mind if you don’t know where it’s at?
Listening can assist us in building rapport and, importantly, builds trust. Having a good working relationship is generally a very helpful part of successful negotiation.
We increase the chance 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. By giving them that airtime and showing we have listened, we increase the chances that they will be prepared to listen to our perspective.
How do we listen better?
So if listening is important, the question becomes "how do we get better at it"?
We need to distinguish between hearing and listening. 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 improve your listening skills.
Listen to understand
Think about recent negotiations you’ve had. As your counterpart was speaking were you busy already trying to formulate your reply or focusing on all the objections you had to what they were saying? While these are important activities, try to defer them until after the person has finished speaking. Focus on understanding what is being said before seeking to respond.
Your focus during listening should be on the speaker rather than your own thoughts and emotions.
Listen for what’s not being said
In a negotiation, it is important not just to hear the words that are being spoken but to pay attention to what has not been said. It might be that the other side is deliberately leaving information out and using vague wording – the ultimate trick of politicians.
We also need to interpret the needs and emotions that underlie what is being said. Understanding emotions is critical in many negotiations. If we fail to address these intangible interests, even the most rational of solutions will be ignored.
Listen to yourself
One of the challenges of effective listening is that our minds are so busy thinking all the time. In order to listen, we need to quiet that internal chatter. Before we enter a negotiation, making time to sit in silence for a minute or two and recognise what’s going on in our own minds can help us to clear the space to listen effectively in the negotiation.
There is no doubt that effective listening can be challenging but it’s certainly a skill 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.