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Why Active Listening Matters in Negotiation

Negotiation frequently conjures images of someone speaking across a table, finger pointing directly at the other party – reinforcing whatever point is being made. It is easy to see why this image abounds, however negotiation is not about talking endlessly at the other party; negotiation is about silence and listening.

Recent studies have found that over half of our time at work is spent listening, but we often forget much of what we hear.  Even worse, poor listening greatly diminishes your ability to connect with others.  The irony here is that active listening has the potential to make you more likeable…by up to 40% some studies suggest.  

Active listening skills increase trust amongst your team and with your customers, diminish conflicts, motivate others more easily and inspire high levels of confidence.  Active listening is more than just saying less. It’s a skill that involves understanding others, getting them to talk more, and inspiring trust and commitment.  The good news is that the ability to actively listen is easy to develop.  Whether you’re dealing with customers or your own team, take these listening skills into your negotiations and you will notice your ability to influence will increase exponentially.


Effective communication doesn’t involve just standing there in silence; to actively listen, you need to encourage questions, and to delve deeper if there’s something you don’t understand.  For instance, if someone is explaining a complex issue to you, resist the temptation to just nod your head, wait for a brief pause and ask, “can you run that past me a second time please?” Most people are happy to elaborate on their areas of expertise, and you’ll be seen as an interested party who wants to learn and, more importantly, you are keen to learn from them – this is enormously empowering for your customers.

Build the other party’s self esteem – empower them

Studies conducted globally have established that effective listeners make the experience positive for the other party. Instead of being critical, they made the listening experience a positive one; where the person feels supported, and most importantly, trusted.

If you’re interested in what is important to the other party, ask them.  You want them to feel that you are invested in them, their ideas and their view of the world.  Actively listening will encourage them to be more forthcoming with information.  Knowledge is power, allow them to share theirs with you. 


Have you ever sat down for a meeting with someone in their own office when they are surrounded by their digital devices? Irritating barely even touches the surface of what it feels like to be on the other end as they keep looking down at their phone when it lights up or turning back to their desktop when they email delivery sound echoes softly.

The next time someone enters your office to talk, take the time to “ditch the digital” — turn your phone face down, close the laptop and turn off your monitors. Not only will this make for a more productive negotiation, but showing the other party that you care enough to close out the rest of the world for those few minutes will go a long way. You are also setting the standard; if this is your normal routine it is likely you that you won’t be see many mobile phones at your next meeting. Negotiation has much in common with leadership – example is always more powerful than words. 

Hone your skills – practice

As with anything else, ‘practice makes perfect’ and until you actively try to improve upon it you will be stuck right where you are.  So what can you do to improve? Try to clear your head before a negotiation in order to keep your thoughts from drifting when others are speaking.  You may also want to try making mini summaries in your head as the conversation moves along. Check in with the other person to make sure you are still on the same page, “so this is what I am hearing so far,” or “ok, let’s review what we’ve gone over” — this will allow both parties to clarify what has been said and confirm that it was conveyed correctly.

Think like Sherlock Holmes – Clarify, dig deeper and analyse

Sherlock Holmes is all about the detail.  Whilst listening is important, you must also set the direction of travel for the other party.  Make it easy for them to share what they know with you.  Holmes is very skilled at using questions to get the information he is seeking.  If you don’t completely understand the other party’s point or you would benefit from them further elaborating, then ask more questions.  Ask ‘wide/open’ questions such as, “what exactly do you mean by…?” or “can you give me an example of when that took place?” Challenge; this will allow you to fully understand the issue at hand and will encourage the other party to offload more information.  At bridge][ability we stand firmly by our view that negotiators need not justify, however we are always keen to get the other party justifying.  After all, the more they say the more they give away.

Non-verbal communication – control it

Actively paying attention to your body language, your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures, can make a huge difference in your interactions and alter the impact you achieve.  Simple things: uncross your arms, keep steady eye contact, lean in towards the speaker, nod when you hear something interesting and be sure your tone stays positive, even when the message may not be.  This will help you listen better by being in tune with your body and also convey a positive message to your listener.  Becoming self-aware is one of the best gifts you can give yourself personally and professionally.  How you come across to others matters, you need to have strong emotional intelligence and understand how you are being perceived by the rest of the world.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”.  Stephen Covey

Photos by @jasonrosewell, @sammywilliams, @keiteu_ko and @pskslayer on Unsplash.


influencing, listening, negotiation, negotiation training