Many incorrectly associate “active listening” with aggressive listening, where we constantly search for a slip up or error upon which we can pounce. We see that in a happy context at the pub watching NHL hockey, as friends merrily jostle on behalf of their home teams and favorite heroes.
Sadly, we also often see this in domestic disputes. Either way, this type of aggressive listening for ‘upmanship’ has no place in negotiations.
Active listening is a negotiating muscle that helps us to make the complicated more easily understood. It is a technique that helps us get facts in the proper perspective.
The first step in developing our active listening skills is to always use simple language. If there is something the other party is saying that we don’t understand, we shouldn’t hesitate to immediately ask for clarification.
Granted, it is not polite to interrupt. However there is a huge difference between asking someone to clarify and interrupting.
Generally, people will be appreciative that we care enough to thoroughly understand what they are trying to say. But there are far more important reasons for requesting simplicity.
All too often we assume we know what the others are talking about, or that we’ll be able to figure it out. That’s when we get into trouble. Their other points are built upon what we don’t fully understand.
The further behind we fall, the more complex everything seems. We start letting our thoughts wander, or start mentally preparing a response that has little to do with what is actually being said.
A frustrated “I told you that!” or a “But I explained that to you!” can be an embarrassing loss of credibility.
Another reason for asking for keeping things simple or asking for clarification is to test the other party’s knowledge of the issue. If others can’t state their positions succinctly, they may not be entirely on top of their own facts.
The less secure our opponent is with his or her own facts, the more they will chatter in a non-descript manner.
In active listening, we may also want to repeat and summarize the other party’s point, before moving onto the next. We need not feel embarrassed doing this, as it gives the other side the opportunity to correct us if there is something we didn’t get.
This goes back to the negotiating muscle of silence. By not saying too much we are already coming across as more intelligent, perceptive and knowledgeable. Funny how that works!