I’m not known for keeping my thoughts to myself. In fact, many of you pay me to advocate and negotiate on your behalf.
But while I may not be the quiet type, I believe that those who know me would still describe me as an excellent listener – and those skills have served me well in my negotiations in business and in life.
I firmly believe that all the preparation in the world won’t do you any good in a negotiation if you don’t listen to the other side. Sure, you hear what your adversary is saying, but are you really listening? A Campolo-ism, if you will: your ears are not for decoration. Use them!
Here, some strategies to make the most of it when it’s not your turn to talk.
1. Listen for the meaning, not just the words. People are so eager to defend their position and get a word in that they hear without really listening. Pay attention not only to what the speaker is saying, but how he or she is saying it. Does the person sound sincere? Disappointed? None of the above? The speaker’s attitude and means of delivery will tell you a lot about the person’s position in the negotiation. Use this to help you frame the conversation.
2. Ask questions. Rather than talking endlessly (lawyers are notorious for this), take the opportunity to draw more information from the other side. Ask about their position. Question details about their point of view. You don’t want to interject and bombard the person, but asking questions shows you’re interested in what they have to say. A person who feels that you’re making a real effort to understand his or her point of view will be more likely to share information with you.
3. Paraphrase to confirm understanding. Test how well you’ve been listening by repeating your adversary’s position back to them in your own words. This exercise gives you the opportunity to confirm that you understand their position, and helps you get up to speed if you’ve misunderstood something.
4. Resist the urge to prepare your response while the other side is speaking. I know, I know. They’re SO wrong, their position is SO unrealistic, and you can’t WAIT to tell them so. Stop! Keep listening. You may learn more details about where your adversary is coming from. You’ll have your turn to reply – and if you listen well now, your reply will be more effective than if it is an off-the-cuff, automatic response that you just can’t wait to get out.
5. Consider your body language. While the other side has the floor, show them that you’re listening. Maintain good eye contact, lean in toward the speaker, and nod your head. Take notes if the situation warrants it. Try not to cross your arms or otherwise put up a wall between you and your adversary.
6. Remain open-minded. Listening effectively requires you to think objectively. If you’re judging your adversary before you get to the table, the session will likely be unproductive. Hear the person out. This doesn’t mean you need to change your view to agree with theirs – if that were the case, negotiating would be easy. The point is to look for common ground.