Listening for Successful Negotiatiating

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by Michael Heath

People often believe they are listening, but their minds are actually busy formulating how to respond. As thoughts tumble in their heads like towels in a dryer, the essence of what is being said gets missed. The other side may do the same thing when listener and speaker trade places. Impatience can lead to interruption. Neither side really hears the point the that person speaking is attempting to make. What could have been a constructive discussion spins away into a senseless argument.

Listening Skills for Problem Solving 

The above statement is less lecturing than observation. I am just as guilty of “not listening” as the next guy. That is not to say that I have not tried to get better at it. We all should. It is important in any kind of negotiation to understand the other person’s point of view. Negotiation expert Chris Voss in his book Never Split the Difference stresses that understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing. People want to be heard. Voss notes that humans have an innate tendency toward socially constructive behavior. The more they feel understood, the more inclined they are to work through the issue at hand.

Voss suggests that a good listening technique is to “loop back” by repeating what the person said to show understanding. It is not recommended to repeat in a verbatim fashion which may come across as robotic and condescending. Instead, it is good to paraphrase what the other person said. Showing understanding while expressing empathy, even when both sides are at odds, can often create the dynamics for a needed breakthrough.

Reap Benefits by Staying Focused

No one needs to be an expert negotiator to succeed in mediation or collaborative divorce. Mediators and collaborative lawyers assist in the negotiation process. However, it is essential for both spouses to sharpen their listening skills to help ensure favorable outcomes. Here are four benefits that can be derived from listening:

  • One may learn something
  • Produces a feeling of teamwork resulting is better cooperation, shared ideas and problem solving
  • Shows respect and empathy for the other side which can cause a positive shift in behavior
  • Clues may be given off as to what would and would not be acceptable

Much can be derived simply by being a good listener. For example, if one spouse realizes that his/her partner has a deep desire to remain in the marital home rather than sell it as had been planned, then allowing such an arrangement could be used to gain something else in return, producing a win-win result that no one saw coming. On the other hand, not focusing on what is said allows important information to be missed. Even worse, interrupting, belittling, and responding with disparaging remarks solves nothing. Again, understanding does not have to mean agreeing. It just leads both sides toward a place where there is a chance for a solution to be found.

Let the Other Side Be Heard

Countless marriages have failed due to a lack of good communication. Too much saying and not enough listening. It may be too late to save a marriage but not too late to achieve a successful divorce. The mediation and collaborative divorce methods offer couples ways to end their marriages in a less costly and more amicable way. For the process to succeed both sides need to listen.



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