“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Larry King

Not surprisingly, negotiation is a two-way street. But an inherent problem appears due to the fact that everyone wants to be heard, but nobody wants to listen. We are hardwired with emotion that, at the deepest level, propels us to feel known, heard, understood, valued.

Moreover, it seems the majority don’t really know the what, why and how of this seemingly simple yet essential activity for successful negotiation… and any relationship.

So let’s dive in.

WHAT is Conscious Listening?

In a world of total information overload, where our heads are busting with tasks, priorities, responsibilities and problems, a person’s “cup” is very full and overflowing. So, if at some point in your negotiation, you intend that your counterpart actually listens to you, truly listens and understands what you need and want (thereby adding more to their cup), you must first help them to create mental space for this information. Help them “empty their cup”. I’d like to immediately draw the distinction that hearing (passive) is not listening (tuning in), and surely is very far from Conscious Listening, which is what we need to practice to excel in negotiation. Conscious Listening is an intentional and deliberate action of holding a safe space for the other person, where they can “empty their cup” and transition into authentic sharing and vulnerability. This is the space where trust lives.  The space that a Trusted Negotiator covets and relentlessly pursues with discipline and passion, as this is where relationships are forged and real deals are made.

WHY is Conscious Listening important?

This is not rocket science, you say, but then why do majority fail to practice this essential skill even in the most crucial conversations? Maybe we just aren’t sold on its value? Or are we too self-absorbed and simply lack the discipline to do what matters most – consciously listen to our counterpart. The rewards are plentiful, here are some most prized ones:

  • Discovery – information is the lifeblood of your negotiation. Your counterpart is full of stuff you actually need to know to get to a good deal. This is your chance to gather.
  • Respect & Appreciation – when your counterpart feels listened to, they feel respected, valued and appreciated, thereby associating this feeling with you. They “like” you. This unconscious feeling is far more valuable in building a trustworthy and collaborative relationship than any rational reason for why they should do business with you.
  • Empathy – it connects you with the other person, their situation, their experience of it and how it impacts them.  This connection allows you to empathise, which is essential in getting to a deal where you are able to give them what they truly need and want.
  • Rapport – people are social creatures with a fundamental need to fit in and be a part of a peer group, with share values, goals and interests. Deep listening will identify the inevitable areas of overlap with yourself, so you can build on these to build the relationship.  Rapport is an essential precursor for being able to influence and negotiate with your counterpart.
  • Reciprocity – wanting to “return the favour” for an act of kindness or generosity, like conscious listening, is a fundamental social trigger. You can set the tone of your negotiation by leading with conscious listening, and thus setting the “rules of engagement”.  The reverse is equally valid – if you’re not genuinely listening to them, they will certainly not listen to you, and your negotiation is likely to spiral into a blame fest of misunderstandings, drawn-out arguments and heated conflict.
  • Trust. Enough said.

“Listening is the Golden Key to any human relationship. The cheapest concession and the most valuable move you can make in negotiation is the same. It’s to listen” William Ury

HOW do we practice Conscious Listening?

So what’s the recipe? It’s not a step-by-step instruction, but rather a melting pot of various attitudes and behaviour that result in conscious listening. Try these:

  • Intention – communicate to your counterpart your explicit intention to genuinely listen and understand them, their needs and priorities, in order to build the relationship and collaborate.
  • Focus questions – open the door and invite your counterpart to share about specific topics and deep dive with further open-ended questions to lead the dialogue. (More on this in another post).
  • Mindfulness – be fully present in the current moment, paying full attention to what is being said and how. This also means be fully focused and available to them, suspending your own needs, thoughts and feelings.
  • Non-judgement & acceptance – give your counterpart the confidence that it’s safe to share. Don’t filter what is being shared through your own attitudes, beliefs and experiences; instead listen without judgement and with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.
  • Non-reaction – resist your impulse to react to what is being said, change or control the situation.
  • Silence – it’s astounding how uncomfortable people are with silence, trying to fill it with talk as soon as it surfaces.  Hold the silence and let your counterpart “fill it”. You’ll be surprised with the gold that surfaces without having to dig for it.
  • Whole body listening – since words are only 7% of communication, unless you’re also listening to non-verbal cues, you’re likely to miss the point.  Fire up your whole being – your eyes, heart, your whole body… – to pick up on the body language, the emotional undertone, what’s being said between the lines, and what’s not being said… but needs to be.
  • Time – be generous with your listening time, allowing your counterpart’s thoughts & feelings to bubble up from unconscious to conscious. If they’re an experienced negotiator, they would have prepared what they are going to say, but not everything can be accounted for.

In summary, In a business world that’s fixated on gaining the next competitive advantage and scarcity is still the modus operandi, listening is something you can and should be very generous with. Not only does it bring a mindful, empathic and wholeheartedly human dimension to your negotiations, but it anchors you in the trust zone, where relationships are forged and best deals are made.

“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” Steven Covey

"Imagine a world where the men in business not only come home with more value in the deal, but with a new sense of trust and respect as a society?"

Fabian Courtaux, Trusted Negotiator