FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, writes, “Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions—information gathering and behavior influencing—and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side.” He goes on to explain that nearly everything in your life, from career to relationships, depends upon this skill. Negotiation, he says, is “nothing more than communication with results.”
Problems arise and results are elusive, however, when parties at the table are more intent on communicating their side than really listening to the other.
The key to results in a negotiation is listening to understand versus listening to respond.
Jonathan Bartsch, president of CDR Associates, one of the nation’s premier mediation and conflict resolution firms, has had interesting experiences with conflict resolution in difficult spots around the world, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. He points out that people don’t always know exactly what their interests are.
Through Socratic dialogue, drilling down with questions and active listening, you can better understand, and be understood by, others. You can also prioritize what you want by listening and hearing. “With people in real conflict, only when they’ve felt they are heard are they open to different ways of thinking about a situation,” Bartsch says. “Without that, you can have the perfect answer, but it won’t matter.”
In all-important face-to-face interactions, good leaders probably rely on active listening more than any other skill. As we watch someone closely, we start not only observing their comportment, but also instinctively taking it on, unconsciously mimicking their tone, gestures, and movements—even their tics. This allows our brain to develop neural resonance, which is closely tied to emotional intelligence and brings us to empathy. Some may dismiss it ethereal, but empathy can be thought of as a brain function that improves socialization. It leads us to solutions in negotiations by helping us understand others’ needs.
Active listening, however, requires what can only be described as mindfulness. We have to move our attention away from what’s happening in our own brains to tune in on what is going on around us. Think of the tips below as a meeting meditation and practice them whenever you are at the table with others to solve a problem.
- Three deep belly breaths as the meeting begins. This will calm your parasympathetic nervous system. Orient yourself.
- Listen and observe when the meeting begins. Unless you have to speak first, focus the flashlight of your mind on the person who is speaking. Don’t even write anything down unless it’s mission critical. Stay hyper-focused. Don’t pick up your phone or tap away on your laptop.
- Scan the other people in the room. What are their interests?
– What brings them there? What do they represent? Assess their role. Avoid judging them and imposing your own biases on their positions. People often form opinions without giving the other person much of a chance. Remember that your goal is to be part of something bigger than yourself and your interests. Continue to take measured breaths.
- Observe how people are reacting. Are their hands on their face (a sign of boredom)? Are they looking at their phones? Daydreaming? Reading something else? Or are they as hyper-focused on the speaker and the meeting as you are? Who is taking up space and nonverbally communicating power and confidence? Who is trying to make themselves small?
- Decide: Bring your attention back to the speaker. Does the person know what they are talking about? What is their contribution?
- Speak, keeping in mind the unique gifts and contributions you bring to the table and what people expect of you. Check your own body language and posture for the nonverbal signals you are sending. When it is time to act, offer something of value, say your piece succinctly and with confidence (even if you do not feel it). Then be quiet and listen.
- Repeat the assessment loop. How are people reacting to what you just said? What do their nonverbals indicate? What is the energy in the room?
The importance of this exercise is creating awareness of other interests while expanding our own view. We become more mindful of other participants’ reactions and the rationale behind them and gain a keener understanding of our own interests and position, which will help lead us to the place where these interests overlap—a successful negotiation.
Written by Matthew L. Moseley.
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