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April 6, 2009

Listening Tips for Negotiators

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Jeff Cochran

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When we teach people to be more effective negotiators, we tend to focus on our Three Ps – Preparation, Probing and Proposing. Perhaps even more important than these threeskills is being a good listener. This area is often neglected because few people think that there is skill in listening, and even more believe it is inheritied and cannot be learned. It is assumed that if I hear what you say that I’m also listening to what you say. This is a bad assumption. Here are ideas and comments about listening that might help you improve your abilities in this often neglected area.

Learn Your Blind Spots – These are words, ideas, and topics we have strong feelings about and, therefore, tend not to be able to listen to very well. We become over-excited by them and stop listening. Alternatively, we become angry, frustrated, or simply refuse to hear and block them out. Try to identify three of these “blind spots” and consciously work to listen when they arise in conversation.

The “Rehearsal Effect” – Most of us are wrapped up in our own lives and we find it boring and painful to let someone else talk. We are absorbed in self-concern. I recall reading in Carnegies “How to Win Friends and Influence People that Dale Carnegie was regarded as a great “conversationalist” by a woman to whom he merely questioned and then listened to her responses intently. Try to enjoy the part of the conversation where you are learning about the other side!

Speed of Thought – The difference in the time it takes to talk and the time it takes to listen is another barrier to effective listening. The average speaker delivers at about 140 words per minute. The average listener, on the other hand, can listen comfortably at about 300 words per minute. Instead of using the time differential to analyze the speaker’s message, we tend to fade out, day dream, think about other things we have to do, or plan what we want to say next. The only way to combat this is to try and jot down brief notes when listening…this activity will use the remaining excess”bandwidth” in your brain.

Distracted by Speaker Behaviors – Most people do not talk in a very organized fashion. Speakers tend to “think out loud” and grope for the idea they want to convey. This process often causes us to give up trying to decipher their message. Other reasons listeners may tune us out include irritating mannerisms and talking a long time. Ask paraphraing questions thoughout, and summarize what you heard to fight this tendency.

Focus on Body Language – Approximately two-thirds of a speaker’s message in any conversation is not contained in the words themselves. It is instead conveyed by the speaker’s tone of voice, body language, and word tense. Listening only for the words and not for the feelings behind them is another common listening problem. So listen for the meaning behind the words and ask questions about what you observe.

Distractions – Disruptions in our environment can affect our ability to focus on what the speaker is saying. Some typical examples of disruptive factors in work environments which could impair your ability to listen effectively include ringing phones, slamming doors, people walking in and out, street noises, etc. If you are engaged in an important conversation, try to have it in a prvate area with minimal distractions.

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