Listening: The Most Under-Utilized Skill In Negotiation

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

As a mediator, I rank listening as the most under-used skill in the negotiations that play out in front of me.

If lawyers had training in psychology or neuroscience, listening would be more valued and more utilized.  There are many books on this subject, most of which came out after I graduated from law school.
The problem is that lawyers are taught that persuasion is about their talking, their arguments, their scoring points, in order for their view to prevail. In a negotiation, however, persuasion is more about listening for what the other side really wants, then finding a way to give it to them at the minimum cost to you.

Malhotra and Bazerman, two Harvard Business School professors, make the distinction in Negotiation Genius, between selling and negotiating.

     “Selling involves telling people about the virtues
     of [your case], focusing on the strengths of your
     case, and trying to induce agreement or
     compliance. Effective negotiating requires this
     kind of active selling, but it also entails focusing
     on the other side’s interests, needs, priorities,
     constraints, and perspective. Negotiation geniuses
     … understand this difference. They also
     understand that their ability to structure a deal
     that maximizes value often hinges not on their
     ability to persuade, but on their ability to listen.”

I’m currently reading Mark Goulston’s Just Listen. Goulston is a psychiatrist, consultant and business coach. He is an apostle for listening. The inscription in his book is to his mentor and friend, the business guru Warren Bennis. Goulston says Bennis

     “. . . taught me that when you ‘deeply listen’ and
     get where people are coming from, and then care
     about them when you’re there, they’re more likely
     to let you take them where you want them to go.”

It’s so simple, yet so untried. Practice careful and intentional listening with your loved ones (and notice their response!), then try it at your next negotiation. Let me know how it goes.


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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