The most basic negotiation skill anyone can start using is simple—listening.
Becoming a better listener will help you with the rest of the negotiation process—that’s the foundation of Tactical Empathy™. When you listen well, people feel like they’re heard and understood, encouraging reciprocity.
The biggest roadblock that hinders people from being great listeners is that they’re only listening at the first or second level. Meaning you’re either listening just to get the gist of what the other side is saying, listening for rebuttal, or listening for something they can argue or have a response to.
People don’t want to be given an answer or response—ultimately they just want to be heard.
How to Train Yourself To Be a Better Listener
One thing you can do to practice being a better listener is to use the Summary™. Listen to the conversation and then summarize it back for the other person—see how much you get right.
“So far you said (fill in the blank)…and as a result you (fill in the blank)...”
You’re going to be paying more attention to what they’re saying, and, even if you get something wrong, the other person will correct you.
From there, learn the Quick 2+1™: Labels™, Mirrors™, and Dynamic Silence™. We’ve found that most people respond better to Labels than Calibrated Questions™ or direct questions. Labels put their mind at ease; they don’t feel like they’re under pressure or are being questioned.
This tool gives them space to be able to respond without thinking, “Why are they asking me that? What’s their motive?”
You’re becoming a person that others can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with.
Resist the Urge to Fix
Before learning these skills, I, like most people, wanted to be a problem solver. People would start talking and right away I’d get all confident, thinking, “Oh, I’ve got an answer for that!”
And then I’d get it wrong.
I realized that I alienated the other person—they didn’t really want to talk to me after that. They probably thought, “This guy isn’t even paying attention!” Because when you listen solely to solve, you’re focusing on yourself, not the other person. You think you’re doing something great when really the other person might be more frustrated after talking to you. They’re disappointed. Instead of being heard, they got talked at.
We’ve all done this. We think we have the answer so we stop listening. We think “Oh this is going to help them!” when in reality all you do is make the problem worse. When you start throwing around advice first, there’s a danger that if it’s something they’ve already tried, you’ll make them feel like there’s no solution. “Well, I already tried that, so there’s no solution.” People don’t always want advice. Sometimes they just want to get everything off their chest, to be able to talk to someone without being told how to solve the problem.
Real problem-solving involves listening first. And oftentimes, after feeling heard, people find they can fix the problem themselves.
A Little at a Time
Becoming a better listener is all about baby steps. Don’t try to do everything at once. Like Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” When you focus on perfecting one skill, you’re closer to mastery than if you try to learn everything all at once.
Becoming a better listener is the foundation of all the rest of the negotiation skills. If you can master this, you can master negotiation.