9 Ways Listening Boosts Your Negotiation Success
I talk too much — especially when I’m anxious. Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. Talking is how we build the relationships that result in cooperation and, ultimately, survival.
Our ability to work in groups has been a critical advantage since the dawn of time. As we talk, seeing acceptance in others’ eyes confirms that we’re included in the group. And without the group, we’re alone and vulnerable. In our hunter-gatherer days, we were dead without the group. So naturally it feels good to talk and share our stories with others.
That feel-good sensation is particularly alluring when we’re under stress — and negotiations are always stressful. We can slip into talking too much just because it relieves our anxiety. It just plain feels good to talk.
But talking too much is a problem because it keeps us from listening.
To avoid talking too much I remind myself of the phrase “ask don’t tell,” and then I ask a question.
Why is listening is so important?
When you think about it, the reasons we might talk too much are the same reasons we need to listen. We need to show the other party that same acceptance. When you listen to others:
- they feel affirmed.
- they feel accepted and acknowledged.
- they feel good about themselves.
- they feel connected.
In a negotiation, when you make the other party feel accepted, they can comfortably explore the conversation on a deeper level. This provides both of you the opportunity to explore the issues in a more thorough manner. And when you are negotiating, only through exploration can you reach mutually satisfying bargains.
I’ve found that listening is one of the most important skills a creative negotiator can have. Listening intently signals to the other person that you are putting your self-interest aside and are considering their point of view, their needs, and their agenda.
How to listen effectively.
It’s no accident that the term “active listening” is used to describe the process of really hearing what others are saying. Listening well requires a great deal of participation and effort. Active listening is not something that most of us do well naturally because we prefer to talk. But with practice, we can dramatically improve our listening skills — and our negotiation outcomes.
Actively listening lets me treat the other person the way I’d want to be treated in a negotiation. It helps create an air of safety and confidentiality for the conversation.
Here are some techniques I use to help me listen better:
- I take notes. This helps me keep track of what the other person is saying, and lets me jot down my questions for later so that I don’t interrupt.
- I remember not to fold my arms. This action can be a subconscious effort to comfort my own anxiety, but it signals to the other person that I’m defensive or closed off from communication.
- I nod my head and indicate agreement with my hands.
- I make eye contact and say “humm…” to show I’m following.
- I stop myself from thinking of a counter-argument to their point of view, and I follow their line of thought.
- If I feel I’m losing my interest, I repeat back to them something they’ve just said.
- I ask follow up and clarifying questions prefaced with: “What I’m hearing is…” and “help me understand.”
- I hold my thoughts until I’m sure they have really told all. Often people will begin to repeat themselves, a sign that are ready for me to respond.
- I summarize what they’ve said, and ask for corrections to my summary and re-summarize.
Listening allows you to learn what avenues to pursue in the negotiation and adjust your position accordingly. Listening acknowledges the human connection we share and provides the opportunity for the kind of shared insights that lead to great creative relationships and projects that are truly a pleasure to be apart of.
The act of listening intently and taking notes reduces your own anxiety because it focuses you away from your own feelings and into an empathic state that’s entirely engaged with them. The result is a powerful calming effect.
You’ll know you that you were a successful listener when:
- you see that they feel good about you.
- they are comfortable revealing new information.
- your anxieties are reduced because of your intense listening and note taking.
- and of course, when your sign a mutually satisfying deal.
Ask don’t tell is the note to self I use whenever I’m in a tense negotiation. It sure works for me. I hope it helps you, too.