This blog was originally published on 11/23/2015 and updated on 9/10/2020.
Everyone is always looking to increase their chances of success. It’s simply human nature to want to do everything you can to avoid failure.
At The Black Swan Group, we help people like you get better outcomes by learning how to communicate more effectively.
With that in mind, let’s explore three different ways you can improve your communication skills—and increase the chances you succeed.
1. Listening to Respond vs. Listening to Understand
There’s a very fine line between listening to respond and listening to understand.
When we listen to respond, we’re looking for flaws in our counterpart’s reasoning. When we zero in on a target, we stop listening and wait for the moment we can interrupt them—or at least for the moment they take a long enough breath so we can interject and explain how our logic is better than theirs.
We all do this. I’ve had to stop myself from doing this when I’ve felt my counterpart’s logic was so off-base that I had to straighten them out as soon as possible.
This tactic is very similar to making the poor assumption that we have all the information we need before coming to the table. We know that we are hiding things from the other side but somehow forget that they’re doing the same thing to us.
How often do you make the effort of trying to get someone on the same page only to find out that, as soon as they’re able to talk, everything they say is argumentative and clearly the beginning of a debate over issues?
Listening to understand is basically a different spin on active listening, or consciously making an effort to hear and understand the words your counterpart is saying. With active listening, you guide the conversation with responses like Labels™ and Calibrated Questions™.
When you’ve gotten a true synopsis of what their viewpoint is, the next step is to summarize what the world looks like to them so completely that they can only respond with two magic words: That’s Right.
2. Saying I Understand vs. Articulating Your Understanding
The real problem with I understand is that it’s usually followed with this word: but.
I understand, but here’s what I think.
Everybody knows that the person who says I understand has no concept of what the problem or issue really is. It’s basically a lazy way for them to get us to stop talking so that they can interject with their own reasoning.
When someone says I understand, they’re indicating that they didn’t hear a word nor have they taken it into account. Still, for some strange reason, they expect us to think we have been heard.
We know how bad this feels, and yet we turn around and do it ourselves.
When you say I understand, you are doing more damage to your communication efforts than you realize. Do you think that when a hostage taker is explaining why they are going to take someone’s life, the negotiator says something like this—I understand, but you need to stop waving that gun around and come out so we can put you in jail—and everything ends up in a good place?
The thought of someone saying something like this and expecting it to work is a ridiculous notion by itself. Yet people who negotiate million-dollar deals and policies impacting thousands of people do it every day.
So don’t say I understand. Prove to the other side that you understand by articulating your understanding of the issues and laying it all out on the table.
3. Fishing for Yes vs. Fishing for No
Would you like a lower rate on your energy generation costs? Would you like to save money on your car insurance? Do you like amazing deals?
Stop asking questions designed to get the other side to say yes. When people say yes, it makes them extremely nervous because they don’t always know exactly what they’re getting into. In large part, this is because we’re all used to dishonest salespeople trying to get us to agree with something so that they can take advantage of us.
When you are offering someone a gain, they’re probably thinking this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So, leading your counterpart to a yes could cause unintended uneasiness.
It might sound counterintuitive, but you should actually phrase your questions in such a way to elicit a no from the other side. Though there is some research that shows that “yes momentum” is more likely to get people to agree, being able to say no makes us feel protected. By steering your counterpart toward the word no with no-oriented questions, you can give them the illusion of control in the negotiation—which is the key to getting what you want.
Start Sharpening Your Communications Skills Today!
These three tips will work in all situations—including business negotiations and personal communications with family and friends.
Though you may not master any of them overnight, that’s perfectly OK. Practice these skills in low-stakes situations—like when you order coffee or call up your cable company to negotiate a lower rate.
That way, when the stakes are high, you’ll be in prime position to make it rain!