By Joe Campolo, Esq.

August 23, 2013

Few negotiators would argue the value of good listening skills. Listening skills can calm tensions, break stalemates, and help build creative deals. Most people overestimate their ability of this key skill, and lack an accurate understanding of the concept of active listening.

Active listening doesn’t mean sitting patiently whileyour counterpart talks or does it simply entail saying “I understand” and establishing good eye contact. Rather, active listening is a dynamic process and key in any negotiation. Here are some tips to become a skillful active listener.

1. Showing Your Interest: Prove you’re listening by using body language or brief verbal replies that show interest and concern. Simple phrases such as “yes,” “OK” or “I see” effectively show you are paying attention. This encourages the other person to continue talking and relinquish more control of the situation to the negotiator.
2. Paraphrasing: Tell the other person what you heard them say, either quoting them or summarizing what they said.
3. Emotion Labeling: This means attaching a tentative label to the feelings expressed or implied by other person’s words and actions. This shows you are paying attention to the emotional aspects of what other person is conveying. When used effectively, emotion labeling is one of the most powerful skills available to negotiators because it helps identify the issues and feelings driving the other person’s behavior.
4. Mirroring: Repeating the last words or main idea of other person’s message. This indicates interest and understanding. For example, a subject may say, “I’m sick and tired of being pushed around,” to which a negotiator can respond, “Feel pushed, huh?” Mirroring can be especially helpful in the early stages of a crisis, as negotiators attempt to establish a non confrontational presence, gain initial intelligence and build rapport.
5. Open-Ended Questions: Use open-ended questions instead of “why” questions, which could imply interrogation. If you do most of the talking, you decrease the opportunities to learn about other person. Effective open-ended questions include, “Can you tell me more about that?” “I didn’t understand what you just said; could you help me better understand by explaining that further?” and, “Could you tell me more about what happened to you today?”
6. “I” Messages: Negotiators have to avoid being provoking when they express how they feel about certain things the other person says or does. Using “I” statements lets you ostensibly shed the negotiator role and react to the subject as just another person.
7. Effective Pauses: Any good interviewer knows the power of the long, awkward silence. People tend to speak to fill spaces in a conversation. Therefore, you should, on occasion, consciously create a space or void that will encourage the other person to speak and, in the process, provide additional information.

Adapted from the article “Crisis Intervention: Using Active Listening Skills in Negotiations” by Gary W. Noesner and Mike Webster, published in the 1997 issue of the Law Enforcement Bulletin.