Active listening: the key to successful negotiations

@IE University

Think about a time you’ve tried to persuade someone to do something. How did it go? Did you use any tactics to get your desired result? If you just went into the negotiation with a result in mind, without thinking how you’d achieve it, you’re probably not alone.

However, to become a successful leader and make an impact, you need to be much more prepared. Handling negotiations on a large, global scale is no easy task. Nonetheless, we firmly believe that active listening is a negotiator’s secret weapon. By incorporating a few tips to stay better engaged, you will be able to transform your negotiation skills and become the leader you’ve always strived to be.

Successful negotiations

But I’m already a good listener?

While it may seem simple, many overestimate their negotiation and listening skills. This is mainly due to a lack of understanding regarding the concept of active listening. Have you stopped to think about what active listening actually is?

Active listening isn’t simply paying attention to what someone is saying, nor is it adding an “uh-huh” into the conversation every now and again. Active listening requires an active mind; it requires a degree of empathy to help you fully understand what the other person is trying to say. 

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So, how does it help negotiations?

Active listening is invaluable in ensuring successful negotiations. In fact, active listening is just as important—if not more so—than talking, as successful negotiations are based on a give-and-take of information. An exchange requires action from both sides of the table, not simply by the person offering up the information. In this way, active listening plays a key role in ensuring all information is exchanged and absorbed successfully.

Effective active listening can shift tensions and enhance progress in an otherwise deadlock situation, being the most effective tool in building positive relationships and reaching successful agreements. Meanwhile, the act of listening signals to the other person that you are putting your agenda aside and taking the time to consider the situation from their perspective.

Moreover, you need to use active listening to gather all the information needed regarding a situation, which will help you to explore the issue on a much deeper level. You can’t simply sit there, nod your head, and smile blankly as the other person is arguing their case. This won’t help either side, and it certainly won’t improve the level of confidence and trust between the two parties. The more information you have, the more power you have, and the more likely you will be able to reach your desired goal.

Successful negotiations

The tricks of the trade

Active listening is a dynamic process, involving certain behaviors which let the other person know you’re paying attention and are “active” in the negotiation. Below are a few tricks to help you transform your active listening skills and become a successful negotiator:

Asking questions: To be empathetic, negotiators need to accurately understand the message the other side is conveying. By asking questions, you’re showing you’re interested in what is being said, and are willing to explore all sides of an argument. Formulating questions with structures such as “Please can you explain what you meant by…” further indicates that you’re paying attention and attempting to understand the other person’s point of view.

Paraphrasing: As a highly effective tool in negotiations, paraphrasing sums up what the other person has said, and it’s the best way to show you’ve understood what they’re saying. When using sentences like “as I understand it, your plan is…”, you highlight your willingness to understand the other side of the argument.

Providing feedback: Feedback shows you’ve taken into account what the other person has been saying, demonstrating that you haven’t simply disregarded their opinions; you are willing to discuss their points further.

Acknowledgement: Similar to feedback, acknowledgement is a great way to identify the concerns of the other side to work together towards joint problem-solving.

Successful negotiations

Next time you’re caught up in important negotiations, take a moment and think, “Could I be doing a better job at actively listening here?” We assure you that by applying these tricks, you will be more successful in achieving your desired outcome.