Forging a winning deal depends largely on your ability to gather as much information as possible about the other side’s market position, motivations and goals. This holds equally true at the organizational, departmental and personal levels. Better information means a more finely tuned value argument and increased credibility, both of which mean more positive leverage that will help you close.
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 how many seasoned professionals fail to listen and thus don’t gather valuable information from conversations with potential partners, vendors or customers.
Nearly everybody has bad listening habits that can be overcome with training and practice. We have identified three poor 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 (“What’s for lunch?”) and train yourself to quickly get your mind back in focus. It’s often a good idea to repeat or ask the speaker to repeat what you just heard to make sure you capture what was said.
Self-centered listening: Do you ever mentally rehearse your answer while the other person is still speaking? That’s self-centered listening: focusing on your own response rather than on the speaker’s words. 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 the most difficult, but it is crucial to a successful negotiation.)
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 department, or something specific to the concerns you carried to the negotiating table. Selective listening often happens when we are multiplexing; almost always when someone is on the phone while looking at 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.
Superior listeners capture subtle information that helps them better understand the other side’s challenges, objections and motivations. By doing this, they earn trust and credibility as the negotiation unfolds. In short, better listening makes you a more effective negotiator. Work on recognizing and curbing the three bad habits above and watch how your results improve over time.