Listening is Crucial in Negotiations

Intelligent Communicators think that listening is vital to effective communication.  I generally do not speak of communication very long without sharing some information about listening.  Why? Because people simply do not listen very well.

Listening in Negotiations

Since listening is so important to me, I was happy to once read a Sunday Minute article from the Program on Negotiation that emphasized the point.  Gabriella Blum, a professor at Harvard Law School, shared some important information for people involved in negotiations and debate.  Her advice is actually invaluable for all of us; because we all communicate.

We Do Not Listen

Dr. Blum begins by asserting that “people generally don’t listen; they await their turn to speak and make arguments.”  This common failure contributes to a number of problems in communication. Some of these include the following:

  • We miss important information about the person we are talking with.
  • We miss important information about their point of view on the topic we are discussing
  • We can develop wrong assumptions, based on limited information.
  • We can damage the relationship by acting on wrong assumptions or limited information.
  • We are vulnerable to difficult tactics employed by the person we are negotiating with.
  • We limit our options for the resolution of problems.
  • We can miss opportunities for coming to agreements in negotiations.

Quick to Listen

I frequently use a short piece of ancient wisdom, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  If we want to be effective communicators, this must become one of our key guides. Slow down your talking and take time to listen.  Take the time to receive the information you need to respond effectively. This is the first step to achieving our goals for every interaction we have with others.

This focus on listening is built into the Intelligent Communication approach.  The four parts of the heart begin with Perception (Listening). There are two additional parts, Heart and Gut, before we get to the Will.  This helps us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Active Listening

In her article, Dr. Blum recommends negotiators practice active listening.  She defines it as “repeating back to the other party what we have understood their claims to be, inquiring further about the motivations or assumptions behind such claims, and acknowledging their positions.”  Active listening helps us to avoid the problems listed above. It provides us with many options we would not have if we did not listen.

We should note that active listening begins with actually listening.  We cannot repeat back to others what we did not take the time to hear and understand.  This is where the MInd and Gut parts of Intelligent Communication help us.

Practice Listening

We need to practice listening.  Commit to developing your listening skills in conversations over the next week.  Resist the temptation to respond quickly and just listen. You may find that just listening to others has a very positive effect on how others think of you.  Everyone likes it when others take the time to listen to them.  

Here’s a final tip for practicing listening.  When you want to practice listening during a conversation, pretend you are watching television.  We cannot talk back to the television (though I often try when I’m watching my beloved Pirates play baseball).  Just use a few verbal and nonverbal encouragers to keep the other person talking. Such encouragers are nodding, and saying things like “uh huh,” “yes,” “go on.”  Otherwise, just focus on listening.

Afterward, think about how much more you learned about the other person and their views on the topic they were sharing.  Would you have learned that much if you did not listen so well? How can this increased information help you reach your goals?

So, go for it.  Be quick to hear and slow to speak.


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