Break Four Bad Listening Habits to Become a More Skilled Negotiator

Completing a winning deal, while maintaining positive relationships, depends largely on your ability to gather as much information as possible about the other side, including their market position, motivations, and goals. This holds true at the personal, departmental, and organizational levels. Better and more complete information can lead to a finely tuned value argument and increased credibility, both of which mean greater leverage that will help you close and achieve positive relationships.

Behind-the-scenes research with your team as you prepare to negotiate is a vital aspect of information gathering; the rest is gleaned from how you engage the other side in conversation. This may seem almost too basic to mention, but we are still surprised to see many seasoned professionals who don’t listen properly and thus fail to gather valuable information from conversations with potential vendors, customers, or partners.

A majority of us have poor listening habits that can be overcome with training and practice. Following are four such listening habits that lessen the effectiveness of otherwise good negotiators:

Pseudo-listening occurs when you only go through the motions of listening. You appear to be present, but your mind is miles away. Consciously correct this error by really focusing on what the speaker is saying. Recognize when distracting thoughts arise (like the urge to look at your iPhone) and train yourself to quickly get your mind back in focus. It’s often a good idea to repeat what the person said to make sure you capture not only the content but also the context. Asking the speaker to repeat what they said can also achieve this, but make sure you are not giving the impression that you weren’t listening in the first place.

Self-centered listening: Do you ever mentally rehearse your answer while the other person is still speaking? This is a form of self-centered listening: concentrating on your own response rather than on the speaker’s words. In that process you are likely to miss something important that would improve any response you are likely to give. Remember that a good listener usually beats a good talker when it comes to making a better impression.

Correct this listening fault by focusing completely on what is being said, allowing time to let the other person complete their thought—then begin to frame your answer. (This is a difficult habit to overcome, but it is crucial to a successful negotiation.)

Listening with a hidden agenda: This habit is closely related to self-centered listening. It occurs when you are so focused on your own agenda/objective, that you fail to fully understand what is on the mind of the person speaking. We’ve all been victims of the agenda-driven salesperson who discounts whatever we say and pushes forward with the sole objective of closing the sale. You feel repelled by such a strategy and so will your prospect when the position is reversed.

Selective listening happens when we listen only to those parts of a message that directly concern us—or what we think directly concerns us. One example of this is letting your mind drift until you hear your name, the name of your company, or something specific to the concerns you brought to the negotiating table. Selective listening often happens when we are multi-tasking; such as when someone is on the phone or a video call while simultaneously browsing on their computer. You will be a far more effective negotiator if you listen to the entire message because you will get the context of all that your counterpart says, rather than just bits and pieces.

To summarize, superior listeners capture subtle information that helps them better understand the other side’s objections, challenges and motivations, i.e., the context for what they are trying to achieve. By overcoming bad listening habits and practicing the skills covered in this article, they earn trust and credibility during the entire negotiation process. Better listening will make you a more effective negotiator. So, recognize and eliminate the four bad habits and watch your results consistently improve.