When negotiating, give good news in small chunks. Give bad news all at once.
Negotiation Blog - Listening
Negotiating Demands for Unjustified Compensation
By Thomas Wood
As many issues typically arise during execution of an agreement as arise during contract negotiations. Some require contract modifications, while others require a change in performance expectations. I worked with a manufacturing client recently on its dispute with a valued customer. The challenge was how to resolve the compliance issues without damaging the relationship.
My manufacturing client (Sandra) couldn’t get an important customer (Joe) to pay his bill. Joe insisted that a special order of a low volume, high cost part was delivered a week late. This caused Joe to miss his delivery deadline with his big customer. Joe is being slapped with a penalty fee from his customer and wants a 50% discount.
After probing Sandra, I learn that a delivery deadline was not in the contract. There was a verbal commitment to get the part there as soon as possible, but no promised date. Sandra wants to keep Joe happy, but since she didn’t violate the contract, she won’t discount the price.
Before asking an irate customer to be reasonable, Sandra should invite him to problem-solve a win-win solution. A particularly effective way is to listen, draw him out, respond and summarize. For example:
- Joe: "You were late, which made us late and now we are slapped with a penalty; it is your fault and I am not going to pay your bill."
- Sandra: "You are getting flack from your customer and the reason is you were delayed because our product was delivered to you later than expected."
It is challenging to actively listen when you feel attacked, so practice before you make the call.
Be careful not to make counter-accusations. It is counter-productive. "It is not my fault; you ordered the product last minute and we delivered as soon as we could, which is what we told you when you placed the order."
Suggest that you do some research together on what went wrong, what the current obligations and understandings are, and whether they need to be revised. For example, Sandra might say: "I would be happy to consider compensation once we agree on the facts. Would you be willing to take out the contract, see what we agreed to and then decide what needs to be done? Let’s also review the order and communication process that occurred for this part and see if they need to be changed."
Once you have agreed on the facts and process improvements, choose an offer.
CHOICE ONE: Create good will with a concession other than a price discount. Sandra might say, "Given the facts we have uncovered, I’m not inclined to discount this particular order. But I am sorry and want to help. For example, I could eliminate the late payment penalty."
CHOICE TWO: Offer a trade in exchange for a concession. Sandra could say, "You are an important customer to me and I’d like to help you out, so what I could do is give you a 4% discount on this order, if you pay it within 3 days."
CHOICE THREE: Use legitimacy (facts, such as previous agreements, industry standards, competing offers, cost plus). Sandra could propose, "Let’s both see how we have handled this in the past. I will look into how we have dealt with similar situations with other important customers and you look at what you have agreed to with your customers in this sort of a situation. What do you offer your clients if you were not contractually late on delivery, but yet were later then they expected?"
KEY to negotiating a resolution
The key is to turn the conversation into a problem-solving negotiated agreement.
- Make trades you are comfortable with, but get concessions in return.
- Let the facts be the bad guy. It will keep your negotiation from turning into an argument.
- Jointly determine deadlines, but probe arbitrary deadlines you are given
- Come to an agreement on how to keep this from happening in the future.
- Remain calm and sympathetic.
If you do this, your relationship with your customer will be stronger than ever. Remember…. Be firm but fair!
“Yes, and” Take a Negotiation Lesson from Improv Theatre
By Marianne Eby
Even when you prepare extensively for face-to-face negotiations, you often feel like you are on stage. Everyone is watching to see if your reaction or next move will ensure progress, or prevent it. Sometimes everything goes according to your intended script, and what you practiced must now come off as an unrehearsed reaction. Other times you have to respond to unexpected turns in the conversation. To get better at both these negotiation skills, let’s take a few lessons from Improv.
I was a theatre major in college in the '80s, and often draw on the Improvisation skills I learned in those acting classes and later as an attorney to help me now in my face-to-face negotiations. You can do it too.
What is improvisation? Without getting technical, it’s using words or actions in response to a stimulus in your environment, such as a question, an inner feeling, or some one else’s reaction. It involves spontaneity. Common terms for improvise are ad lib, extemporize, off the cuff, and play it by ear.
Theatre actors practice Improvisation as a way to find the spontaneity that the audience will need to experience when the actors deliver a script for the hundredth time. Improvisation teaches actors how to listen, sense others around them, communicate clearly, trust their instincts, and appear both spontaneous and confident in their reactions and choices. These same skills are critical to negotiating.
Improv Skills in Negotiations
Foremost among Improvisation skills are listening actively and building on that information. In Improv we use a simple "yes and" statement where the actors affirm what their partner has said and then add information. To do this well requires listening to a partner, internalizing what they have said, and coming up with a statement that moves the relationship between the actors forward.
It’s the same in negotiations. If you find yourself rehearsing your response while your counterpart is talking, you are not listening, and it will be obvious when you respond about your needs rather than theirs. To practice listening, use this simple Improv exercise in response to your counterpart. Say “Yes, and....” Knowing that you are going to say, “Yes,” your mind will easily focus on what is being said to you so that you don’t mistakenly concede something. Focusing, in turn, will allow you to be responsive in a way that your counterpart feels heard.
Actually saying "Yes" in negotiations can have dreadful ramifications, so in negotiations we want to be a bit more verbose. Try saying "Yes I see what you mean, and...; Yes, I am beginning to understand, and...; Yes you have some valid points, and...." You get the idea.
In Improv, like negotiations, the goal is to move the conversation forward in a way that makes sense for all actors. In Improv, one actor makes an offer -- to sit down at an imaginary table, to go inside a door, to talk about his female tennis coach – and another actor is supposed to accept the offer in a way that takes the scene forward. The responding actor can’t walk through the imaginary table, or talk about his mate’s male tennis coach for example. To do so is called "blocking," and it prevents the scene from developing.
It’s similar in negotiations. When one party makes a demand or proposal, it provides an opportunity to move forward -- closer to agreement. That doesn’t mean you have to accept the offer; it means you have to talk about it. And to talk about it, you have to listen. At a minimum, listening can be a powerful concession to other party’s need to be heard. Listening also enables you to understand the perceptions, emotions, and underlying messages of the other party, while building rapport, trust, and a strong alliance with the speaker. When you say "Yes, and...," ask questions, seek clarification, and suggest nuances that might work, you have demonstrated that you listened, and the conversation has moved forward. Don’t be a blocker, be an improviser!
The next time you engage in negotiations consider taking a lesson out of the Improv playbook, and use some “Yes and” statements. Say ‘yes’ by validating the information that the other party has given you, ‘and’ then add some information to demonstrate that you understand their position on the matter. See how the scene plays out!
Check Your Negotiator Blind Spots
By Thomas Wood
Did you ever have a negotiation where you felt well prepared going in, but during the discussions you became frustrated? For most of us, frustration brings out our worst instincts and behaviors, ultimately leading to a poor outcome.
Here’s a quick quiz to help you see if you were held back by any of the common negotiator blind spots.
- Are you good at picking your battles?
- Do you consider it a successful resolution if you get everything you or your company wants without making concessions?
- Do you think that usually the best solutions come from the options offered by you or the other parties at the start of the negotiation?
- Do you tire of listening to the other side’s version of events and perspective on their own needs, and prefer moving forward with the agenda?
- Do you value objectivity and pride yourself on sticking to the facts in your negotiations?
- Do you act in a certain way to ensure people know you are a strong negotiator?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions above, you may be suffering from one of the common negotiator blind spots. While teaching our negotiation workshops, we have found that participants often fall prey to these blind spots:
Battle Alert: He believes that it is important to pick his battles because negotiations are battles. He does not believe that a win-win outcome is actually possible, and thus approaches every interaction as a competition.
- Attitude is everything in collaborative negotiations! Enter your next negotiation as a discussion, and you may find the battle never was.
Give nothing/get nothing: She figured out what was fair long before the two parties started talking. She wants to achieve her goal, and show that she is a strong negotiator by giving nothing away.
- Negotiation is about getting, AND giving. Good negotiators come prepared to give concessions. You may get everything and give nothing, but don’t fool yourself. The party that feels "taken" will find a way to get it back.
There’s only one way to skin a cat: He has an idea of what will satisfy his counterpart, and has listened carefully to his counterpart’s idea. Both ideas were part of the opening offers. One of these ideas will win the day, or perhaps parts of each idea. Let’s decide and move on.
- The best ideas result from discourse, not solo genius. Very rarely does our first idea prove to be the best. Take comfort in knowing that the 3rd crazy suggestion might lead to a novel approach that is more mutually satisfying to the parties.
Can you hear me listening?: She has listened so much that she tires of the other side talking. Her counterpart feels that he hasn’t been heard. Was she listening loudly enough?
- Listening is not a silent or passive activity. It involves attitude, body language and follow-up that convince the other side you wanted to hear what they had to say. Sometimes, active listening – sincere curiosity, leaning forward, obvious contemplation and asking relevant follow-up questions – is the largest concession you will have to give.
Just the facts, ma’am: He prides himself on his objectivity. The numbers tell it all. We just have to stick to the facts and the negotiation will progress.
- People, not institutions, negotiate. People have history – his-story. Some stories are personal (ego, mood, fears), and some stories arise from circumstances. Ask for your counterpart’s story, and tell yours. Stories engage, leading to more open discussion and mutually satisfying solutions.
Never let ‘em see you sweat: She feels intimidated by her counterpart’s experience or reputation. He’s known to get what he wants. She intends to show him from the start that she’s no pushover and is tough as nails.
- Reciprocity is an ancient concept. You be bad and he be bad back. The best way to set the tone is to prove yourself as a worthy negotiator. Prove you did your homework. Prove you came to listen, learn, and give. Prove you can be creative. Prove you can be trusted. Your best leverage is your skill as a negotiator.
These natural inclinations and defenses can blind us from success in our negotiations. See clearly now.
Top 5 Negotiation Lessons from Summer Vacation
By Marianne Eby
Like me, many of you are returning from summer vacation. You relaxed, explored, and played. But you didn’t sharpen your negotiation saw. Or did you? Without realizing, you likely practiced your negotiation skills, and upped our negotiation quotient. Here’s my Top 5 negotiation lessons from summer vacation:
- Have confidence in the process.
Almost two thirds of Americans work during summer vacation, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. . We know we have to work, at least some, while we’re gone. And yet, we go, with confidence in the value of vacation -- expecting we will come back refreshed for a positive impact on our lives. We should go into negotiations the same -- confident that if we follow a disciplined process, we will achieve predictable and repeatable results that create value for both parties.
- Be creative.
Vacation presented us opportunities to play outside the sandbox. In a new place our personality wasn’t known, so we experimented with our approach or style to get the results we wanted. We experienced new things: different foods, new ways of taking photos, other cultures. Being creative with our choices allowed us to discover new things. Being creative in a negotiation allows us to find new solutions to difficult issues.
- Adjust your style and build rapport.
People we had to deal with on vacation were unfamiliar -- hotel desk clerks, beach patrol, waiters, tour guides, friends of friends. Naturally we wanted a pleasant experience, so we explored common areas of interest to build rapport. And because so much was new and different on vacation, we asked lots of questions. Because we were sincerely curious, we listened well to the answers. Some of these people even made it into our virtual rolodex. Think of your negotiation counterpart similarly. Adjusting your style to the situation or person, and making a personal connection, builds trust. And as we all know, building trust allows both parties to share their true interests, and find hidden value in negotiations.
- Plan, Propose options, and develop alternatives.
Most of us planned our vacations more thoroughly than we plan most negotiations – hotel reservations, addresses to enter into our GPS, must-go concert tickets. We knew the budget we wanted to keep and the money and time limits we could not exceed. When different members of our family were unhappy with the offering, we proposed options. We suggested a willingness to hike the long trail today if everyone would get up early for kayaking tomorrow. Indeed, one of the best negotiation practices is to offer options. People stay involved when they have to respond to options. And on vacation we thought of backup plans if rain stole a beach day. Our vacation /learning-center-item/batna.htmlBATNA! Without knowing it, we practiced our negotiations skills on vacation!
- Take breaks.
We took breaks to relax – mini-vacations within a vacation. Relaxing gave us time to reflect and rethink our needs and priorities, or to calm friction from too much time with family and friends. Taking breaks during negotiations is equally beneficial. Time away allows issue clarification, a chance to reset the emotional climate, and check in with stakeholders. Taking a breather is rarely a step back; more often it provides a renewed vigor to work toward common goals.
We’re refreshed upon our return from vacation. And without realizing it, we honed our negotiation skills in the process. Be sure to apply those summer lesson to your next negotiation.
Negotiate #LikeAGirl, and don’t get Manterrupted!
By Marianne Eby
Two female power stories caught my woman negotiator’s eye this last month: The #LikeAGirl campaign gone viral after the US NFL's Super Bowl XLVIV, and Jessica Bennett’s Time Magazine article How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’. It's a one-two punch and we negotiators can learn a lot from both.
It’s difficult NOT to jump on the bandwagon of a popular Twitter hashtag when it really speaks to you. I watch the Super Bowl every year, and always find new insights, although not about football. See my 2014 blog on Super Bowl XLVIII Cheerios commercial of a young daughter’s negotiation with her dad that put most negotiators to shame. Academics and practitioners alike know children are the best negotiators – ask for what they want, persistent questioners, super curious, unafraid of “No”, and armed with an infinite supply of creative solutions.
2015’s Super Bowl inspired the "girl" negotiator in me with Always #LikeAGirl campaign, turning on its head the centuries old negative connotation that goes with doing anything “like a girl.” (i.e., you throw like a girl...and a hundred others.)
Some of my favorite 2015 hashtags trending for #LikeAGirl
and of course
At Watershed, we train and coach amazing women negotiators at corporations around the world. We remind them that there are instincts and skills many women naturally possess that are the foundation for masterful negotiating – skills that we all (men and women) need to achieve Win-Win in our negotiations. We remind them to Negotiate #LikeAGirl:
- Empathy – It’s not unusual in any ladies' hangout to hear the comment – “He totally lacks the empathy gene!” It’s not that males aren’t empathetic, but many have to work at it more. It doesn’t take much effort for most women, on the other hand, to step into the other side’s shoes. Negotiators need empathy, because until you can truly grasp what the other side needs and why they need it, you can’t make proposals that address those needs and achieve real value for both parties.
- Intuition – How often have you heard someone say – trust your woman’s intuition? Everybody -- men and women -- has intuition – gut feelings – but women tend to have brain connections that assemble and decode diverse inputs more easily than men, and can therefore more easily capture unspoken messages. This special wiring enables us to recognize hidden fears and intents that may sabotage agreement if they aren’t dealt with.
- Cooperation – Some researches claim that the female brain is wired for cooperation, thanks to ample amounts of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Females have more oxytocin, so if the researchers are right, women negotiators may be more likely to engage in the kind of collaboration that results in mutually beneficial agreements.
- Active listening – The research is not clear that men don’t listen well, but it is clear that women certainly perceive men don’t listen well. Deborah Tannen's early research in this area is renowned. Regardless whether men and women actually listen better or worse than the other, all negotiators must master the power of listening.
About 10 years into my legal career, I interviewed for my dream job outside of law, and knew immediately after the interview that I didn’t get the job because I added not one stimulating insight to the conversation. I had some great ideas, but just couldn’t get them in without interrupting the very talkative Vice President who interviewed me. I was shocked when I got offered the job the next day. Months later while on the job, the EVP was singing my praises to the VP, and I overheard that VP tell his boss – “I was so impressed with our conversation when she interviewed that I knew she was perfect for the job!”
I had clearly honed listening to a whole new level. But regardless of my unfortunate (or fortunate) excessive listening, active listening is a skill that can and should be developed by everyone. For better or worse, women negotiators may have the upper hand if like me, they can make people feel heard (a concession received in itself) just by listening.
To use and not be used by these natural female tendencies, women negotiators should take heed:
- Watch out Empathizers! Don’t let empathy turn to sympathy and drive you to give away free gifts or change your proposal to be less advantageous to you!
- Watch out Intuiters! Your intuition is just a clue and not a conclusion, so Probe with sincerity to uncover hidden motivations.
- Watch out Listeners! Listening is helpful only if you take what you heard and respond to it with relevant ideas.
- Watch out Cooperators! Cooperating can easily turn into accommodation or compromise when a collaborative strategy will provide greater benefit for all parties.
Each gender has it’s inherent strengths and often those strengths can lead to weaknesses, like my allowing that VP to talk my entire interview. Or as Jessica Bennett, award winning writer, editor and producer illustrates -- allowing ourselves and our female colleagues to be "manterrupted” or have our ideas “bro-propriated.” We’ve all been interrupted at meetings and had others take credit for the ideas we pose – men and women alike – but ask your mothers, sisters, female bosses, wives and girl friends if they think it happens a lot more to them than the men in your life think it happens to them.
Bennett refers to the recent New York Times op-ed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant:
“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation of his fine idea.”
Bennett and her friends call this Manterrupting. Bennett proposes some great strategies, such as a imposing a general rule of no interruptions at meetings. She also proposes more targeted advice:
- Bystanders nudging the male (or female) interrupter;
- Women “avoid the baby voice and speak authoritatively” -- don’t hedge your ideas with “this may not work, but….”; and
- Women should practice assertive body language (see Amy Cudy’s research on body language and how it can change other people’s perceptions and your own psyche).
Each gender has strengths and weaknesses. But Negotiating is not male or female – it’s a conversation looking for creative ideas to expand value and lead to sustainable agreements. These conversations benefit from empathy, intuition, cooperation, listening, giving due credit for ideas, and not interrupting each other. So to all women and men negotiators, I say Negotiate #LikeAGirl!
By Marianne Eby
Lying is not an easy subject to discuss.
How many lies did you tell today? None? How many times were you lied to today? Not sure? According to the latest research – people lie on average 3 times every 10 minutes, and most of us can't recognize a lie over 50% of the time. So what’s a negotiator to do when your counterpart is not going to announce that they are lying?
Everybody lies. You don’t believe this do you? Think about these everyday examples:
- Compliments that seem expected but are not sincere: "Nice hair cut” might get your boss to be easier on you in this afternoon’s staff meeting.
- You respond that you too are from Oklahoma City when in fact you are from Norman, Oklahoma where you lived from birth through high school. Maybe you tell this lie because it’s easier than describing where is Norman, or maybe you don’t want to be perceived as naive, or maybe you want to build an alliance and your business counterpart went to school in Oklahoma City so there is some advantage to you to be vague in declaring where you are from.
- Apologies that are necessary but resented by the speaker: "Sorry we are late” is appropriate to say, even though your colleague has been late on numerous occasions and you feel justified to be late this time.
- Providing agreement to appease someone : "Yes, that hotel was fine,” even though this customer put you up at a low end hotel where you heard the trucks on the highway all night, but you can’t afford to lose this customer so you aren’t going to complain.
Lying plays out regularly in negotiations just as it does in everyday conversation.
Imagine a building owner who says that for this deal to work, the buyer interested in the building needs to close the deal in 2 months. The prospective buyer in fact wants to close within 2 months, but rather than exposing this interest, the buyer exacts some concession from the owner in exchange for agreeing to close quickly. Is this lying? Or just good negotiating?
We are not in any way suggesting that anyone should tell factual lies in a negotiation - ever - or in any way commit fraud, which his illegal. (Fraud is a misrepresentation of material fact upon which someone justifiably relies to their detriment and suffers resulting damages, and the offense varies by jurisdictions worldwide.) If you are asked a question in a negotiation and you don't want to say the truth, you are obliged to find a way to not answer the question so that the other party knows the question remains unanswered.
But lying happens in negotiations without any factual lies being exchanged. Lying occurs regularly in a back-and-forth conversation where each party recognizes they would have to ask for candor on each and every topic to expect to get it. That's not practical in an intense negotiation, so negotiators understand that the other side is there to seek advantage, leaving little room for any justifiable reliance on your negotiation counterpart’s "negotiation lies."
Why not just negotiate in a straightforward and honest exchange?
Here are just a few examples of why it doesn't happen:
- If a seller reveals her bottom line, the other side would be foolish to offer any more than that.
- If a buyer discloses his must have issues up front, those concessions will be leveraged heavily to close the deal.
- Admit that you have total authority to finalize a deal and you will be pushed to decide and concede all issues on the spot.
- Open with terms of a deal you want, then that will become the starting point from which negotiations begin, assuring you get less than you wanted.
What strategies can you use to close a mutually beneficial deal given that Negotiators Lie?
There are many:
You are negotiating a lease for additional office space. The real estate agent tells you that if you don’t increase your offer by $10K by the end of the day, you’ll lose the space to another company. Is she bluffing or is the deadline real? Ask her lots of questions about the deadline and the competing offer: What time today? Why today and not tomorrow? Who told her this? Why does she believe it’s true? Could it be her source was bluffing? What exactly did they say? When did they tell her? If she was being straightforward, her answers will likely come easily. But if she was bluffing, she will have to go into cognitive overload to keep her story believable. While she is answering, assess how hard she is thinking in order to produce the answers, because even good lyers have to work hard mentally to keep their story coherent.
Propose ideas and options
What do you do when your negotiating counterpart says, “Take it or Leave it.” Do they mean it? Maybe. Is it a lie? Often. Should you test it? No, you should ignore pronouncements of “take it or leave it.” It’s up to you to float options – What if? How about? I wonder how we’d each feel if we can’t reach an agreement? Might another way work? Does your counterpart engage in discussion of these hypothetical options? If so, they didn't mean "take it or leave it" literally.
Use economically equivalent offers
Negotiators often add extra issues to the pot so that they can give in on the ones they don’t really care about and thereby seem cooperative, motivating you to concede on the issues that matters to them. If your counterpart insists that price, delivery time and contract length are all critical and can't be prioritized, offer 3 economically equivalent deals where one of these is addressed in each offer. The offer your counterpart chooses to discuss most will provide clues as to what issues really matter. Now Probe more to find out why that issues is so important.
Offer contingent concessions
Your counterpart insists something is true that you can’t verify: “We plan to build 3 plants next year so our capacity will be doubled by the time you need more product.” Agree to move volume from other suppliers as long as the plants go live by a date you are comfortable with. And put that contingency in writing.
Use Best Negotiating Practices(R)
Rather than spend your energy trying to determine if you are being lied to and navigating around lies, use Best Negotiating Practices that ensure mutually beneficial and sustainable agreements:
- Build relationships with your counterparts: Meet face-to-face when possible and get to know them as humans, not just negotiators
- Prepare: research, verify claims, plan questions
- Exchange: Probe with sincere and intense curiosity, test assumptions, build trust
- Bargain: Bargain with integrity by modeling truthfulness; explain resistance, trade value, admit mistakes and offer any needed apologies
- Listen, be observant and manage our emotions: Be in the moment of the conversation rather than thinking of your next explanation or offer. Emotional states make you more vulnerable -- angry at being taken advantage of, excited about the deal you about to get, depressed about previous losses -- all of these mental states make you more receptive to deceit. Notice clues to lying, but don't accuse - instead use the strategies identified above.
If you think you can spot a liar, then you won’t need these strategies (but at least check your reliance on tell tale myths for spotting liars at the door). And beware: According to the latest research and expert Leanne ten Brinke, you’d be overestimating your chances of successfully knowing a lie when you hear it. A good liar’s lie-revealing facial expression only lasts 1/15th of a second and takes an expert to recognize; body language can give clues but results in many false positives. And accusing a person of lying who didn’t in fact lie, will likely cause the honest person to become defensive – a clue we often misread as protecting a lie. False accusations usually destroy trust, which leads to more lying.
Keep it simple
Avoid lying in your negotiations as much as possible, even though it's a natural part of the game. Expect your negotiating counterpart to lie quite a bit. Don't get mad (it'll backfire); Use Best Negotiating Practices and defensive strategies to find the truth so you can make good decisions and reach a mutually beneficial and sustainable agreement.
How Negotiators Listen to Improve Workplace Dynamics
By Leslie Mulligan
By the time you are 90, my dad tells me, you are finally ready to listen, even if your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. But that’s ok, because listening isn’t about hearing, it‘s about understanding. Negotiating in the workplace, however, requires us to have this skill well before we retire. The good news – better listening can be learned.
Recently, my 90-year old father asked me to buy Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for my 19 year-old nephew on his birthday. Now, as gifts go, my nephew was probably not overly excited, but I understand that my dad wanted to convey some important life lessons to his millennial grandson. I was happy to oblige, because that book holds pearls of wisdom that I often emphasize when I teach our Watershed negotiation curriculum, not the least of which is how well we listen to each other to understand, versus simply listening to respond.
Listening is a critical skill for negotiating at work for 2 reasons: Comprehension and Concession.
#1. Listening = Comprehension
If you don’t know why your colleague wants what they want, you can’t effectively solve the problem. Instead, you find yourself in a time consuming and dysfunctional trail of mutual positioning. Listening opens the door to real understanding of your colleagues’ needs.
Real understanding does not mean sympathy (feeling sorry for someone) or giving in because of some sympathy you may feel. Real understanding results from what Covey calls “empathic listening” -- listening that “gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.” Yet this is not how most of us listen!
Example: For the last few weeks, one of the two supervisors you manage has been arriving 5 to 10 minutes late to your weekly morning meeting with them and their direct reports. You prepare to talk to him armed with reasons why this is unacceptable (disruptive, team morale, productivity). The conversation is not likely to go well because you are preparing to position yourself - not to understand.
If you instead engage in empathic listening – state the problem and how it feels to you, and ask what’s going on -- you might discover that this supervisor has purchased his first house further out from work, and has been struggling to figure out an effective commuting pattern. Now you can discuss solutions that consider the problem from both points of view:
- Can the meeting be moved to mid-morning?
- Can we let the team know what the problem is and expect it to resolve itself in a few weeks?
- Does anyone else at the company commute from the same area that may have some ideas?
- How about shifting his hours to start earlier one day a week when the meeting is held?
- Or maybe if traffic is a problem for anyone on the team, can they call into the meeting, rather than attend in person?
#2. Listening = Concession
One of the greatest needs people have is to be heard. Sometimes no movement can happen until people feel heard. Authentic listening will always be perceived as goodwill – a concession, which often results in a concession back to you, a get to your give. At a minimum, your colleague will show some form of appreciation. In addition, without listening, we can easily give away unnecessary concessions, or reject something that ultimately benefits us.
Example: Your boss asks you to finish a project 1 month earlier than planned. You are ready to argue that this is not fair to you and your team after all the work and successes you’ve achieved. If you instead listen to understand rather than jump to respond, you would discover that finishing early means that your project will be on the upcoming quarterly Senior Management Staff Meeting agenda, giving the best chance for you to gain the needed headcount and budget increases the project deserves. And the exposure to your leadership role will help your career. Yet only minutes ago, you were ready to argue against your boss’s request.
Do you consider yourself a “good listener”? Most of us are told at some point (in our personal and professional lives) that we are not listening! Empathic listening is easier said than done – but it is a “learned skill”. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
Use these tips to improve your negotiations with more empathic listening:
Don’t get bored; get curious - sincerely curious
Ask big open-ended questions like
- Why, Why Not;
- What if, How about, What else could we do;
- What harm would come from;
- How could we change, avoid, resolve.
- And always test your assumptions by asking about them.
In addition to asking questions, you can also show your curiosity by encouraging your colleague:
- Tell me more
- I am intrigued by your idea
- My team (or boss) will want to understand that better
- What other thoughts were considered before coming up with that idea/solution
Remember: People love to talk, and are known to feel so good afterwards if you let them talk, that they give more than they get; but it won’t help if you don’t listen.
Passion for a position does not require an argument in return
Colleagues get passionate about an idea, especially if it is theirs. They become invested in an effort, an outcome, or even just the hope of avoiding a major problem. And if someone senses resistance, emotions surface and can sabotage agreement or blind you both to a perfectly good solution. This is especially true in the workplace when one’s professional status is at stake.
Be prepared to manage your own emotions – and to help your colleagues manage theirs. Managing emotions doesn't mean squelching them. Instead, BEFORE you oppose a co-worker’s position, acknowledge – with sincerity --
- Their conviction or even heartfelt belief;
- The work they put in already; and
- Their reputation or stature.
Don’t feel compelled to argue or persuade, or even negotiate, until you have allowed them to speak their piece- and be sure you listen. This may be your opportunity to make listening your only concession!
Make it personal
Even when dealing only with facts and data, getting personal is one of the most valuable ways to ensure you are communicating effectively. Just ask Alan Alda, the renowned TV actor of MASH fame. Alda joined Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism faculty in its Center for Communicating Science to study the challenges scientists face in effective communication. In his new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? he reminds us that speaker and listener are persons. In a June interview with Newsweek on his book tour, Alda reinforced this concept:
“If we aren’t concerned with observing or imagining what a person is thinking or feeling when we are trying to communicate with them, then we are leaving them out….. the person doing the speaking needs to pay attention to the audience, whether that’s one person or many.”
Alda notes that scientists who take a more logical, fact based approach to communicating are prizing accuracy over actual understanding. Making the experience personal – empathizing with our listener -- is crucial to ensure that our points will resonate with our audience. Alda’s book speaks mostly to the scientific community – helping them cross the divide between a scientist’s knowledge and the audience’s understanding of that knowledge.
But the general problem of effective communication is bi-directional of course, and nowhere is that more evident than in our current political landscape, where polarization is becoming the norm. Rob Willer, a social psychologist at Stanford University, has been studying political polarization in the U.S. for the last few years and gave a TED talk on the subject. In an interview in the Stanford News, he concludes that politicians “must take the time to really listen to one another, to understand one another’s values and to think creatively about why someone with different political and moral commitments from their own should nonetheless come to agree with them. Empathy and respect will be critical if we are going to sew our country back together.”
Politics aside, Willer’s comments effectively sum up how we all can be more successful in any negotiation – a win-win negotiation results when your proposed solution makes it clear that you see the situation or problem from your counterpart’s viewpoint.
Now back to my dad and my nephew – and that well-meaning, if not much loved, birthday gift. My father and my nephew have different life perspectives and views of the world, but they do listen to each other – for the most part. Having spent decades with my dad, I realize that he is not always the best listener himself. But I know he is genuinely curious about his grandson’s views. That is always the best place to start when you need to negotiate solutions, across conference tables or kitchen tables. And full disclaimer, I did buy a cool pair of sports headphones for my nephew, on my dad’s behalf – to make it a bit more personal!