In negotiations, there are three basic components to strategic listening. The first is “Paired Listening”. That is when we actually bring someone else to the negotiations with us with specific instructions to listen, and to look out for particular things.
This strategy has likely been used on us by others without us even realizing. The paired listener is usually rather quiet, extremely polite, and is usually introduced to us as a subordinate – such as an assistant or trainee. But beware!
Principal negotiators already have a lot on their plate and are mired in facts, counter facts, arguments and counter arguments. They also know they are going to miss a lot of what they hear.
So enter the paired listener, specifically trained to listen and observe. He or she will likely be familiar with the issues and subject materials, but may say little or nothing.
The paired listener notes when our arguments are strong and when they appear weak. The paired listener is also looking for our priorities and possible personal agendas.
The paired listener may also observe us personally, focusing on things like defensiveness, anxiety, contradictions, or what discussions are out of our comfort zones.
During contract negotiations, or when heads of state visit other foreign leaders there are usually a dozen or so people at the table with them. Some are subject experts and advisors.
But there will be at least a couple of paired listeners. This becomes even more important when speaking through translators, or when someone speaks with a heavy accent. Our paired listener will be focusing on expressions, tones of voice and subtleties that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The paired listener will often see potential road blocks before we do, as well as possible alternatives or compromises, and will most certainly be discussing them with our counterpart.
Think we don’t get listened to? The truth is we may be listened to a lot more than we realize… or want!
Yet having a paired listener is only one aspect of modern strategic listening. More on this next time.