Listening Skills: Your Secret Negotiation Weapon

Listening Skills: Your Secret Negotiation Weapon

Listening Skills

You’ve probably heard it before; good listening skills will get you far.

And you might have to finally accept that it’s actually true.

Most people are too busy trying to get their point across or thinking about what they’re going to say next that they don’t take the time to listen.

Becoming a good listener isn’t just a nice thing to do, or a way to make friends.  It’s the secret to getting what you want.

Let’s take an example.  You’re in a meeting with your business partner right after you met with a client.  Both of you are FUMING at each other; your partner just told the client that “we” think they should take a new marketing direction, and you disagree with and contradict her.  Not only were you on different pages, but you were both starting to lose your cool in front of someone important.

So the client leaves and you two sit down to have it out.  The first thing you do is ask, “How could you do that??!”  But you don’t wait for an answer…which you really don’t even want.  You’re angry and convinced you were right.  The fight escalates, you scream at each other, and that new Mac Mini gets thrown against the wall and cracks open.  You’re now out $600 and the issue hasn’t been resolved.

However, let’s revisit the situation with your new and improved listening skills.  Your client leaves, and the two of you sit down.  You’re still angry, but you set that aside so that you can first understand where your partner was coming from.

What she tells you is that this was actually a tactic to shake up the client and get them into gear.  She reminds you that you both agreed that this client needed a little prodding, and this was her way of getting the job done.  She concedes that she probably should have asked you first, but she was trying something to see what happened.

She apologizes, and so do you.

Bunnies and puppy dogs.

So, what are some keys to better your listening skills?

Listening Skills Key #1: Set Aside the Pride

As entrepreneurs, we tend to think we’re the ones with the good idea and that we’re right.  Sometimes it’s tough to let go of that and let other people’s ideas in.  If you let go and realize that you don’t need to be the only one who’s right all the time, better collaboration and, ultimately better ideas, will rise to the top.

Listening Skills Key #2: Ask Open-Ended Questions

Communication skills 101 (or maybe 102): Ask a question that will get more than just a one or two word answer.

Questions like:

“Can you help me understand how you’re feeling?”

“What about that made you upset?”

“Why do you think we should go in this new direction?

As opposed to:

“Do you really think this is a good idea?”

“How many times are we going to do this?”


Open-ended questions invite dialogue and gets people talking to you.  Just take the time to hear what they’re saying.  My friend Teri Hill says this is valuing being kind over being right.

Listening Skills Key #3: Active Listening Through Reflection

Maruxa Murphy says this one of the most important techniques she uses during her interviews (she’s done close to 600).  You listen to what somebody is saying, and then you repeat it back to them in such a way that shows you understood it.  You don’t want to just spit it back verbatim, but put their thoughts into your own words.  You can even start the sentence, “So it sounds like you’re saying [INSERT YOUR VERSION].  Is that correct?”

By doing this, you show the person not only that you were listening to them, but that their point is valid and they can feel like they got their side of the story out in the open.  You don’t have to agree with them — just show that you were listening to them.

This makes people feel more appreciated, can help diffuse disagreements, and lead to conflict resolution.

More puppy dogs.

Listening Skills Key #4: Don’t Interrupt

Let them say what they have to say, in full.  Don’t argue, state your case, or infer that they’re wrong until they’ve had a chance to get everything out.  Then, ask if they would like to hear your response.  If they’re feeling like they’ve gotten their side of things into the open, they’ll likely open the door for you to do the same.


When it comes down to it, good listening skills are really about setting aside your need to talk, and having enough empathy and compassion to allow the conversation to be just that — a dialogue.  By doing so, you’re more likely to get your point across in the end and make things a win-win.

Even if you are 100% right, 100% of the time.  Which, of course…we all know is true.

Want Better Negotiations?  Learn to Make Concessions

Want Better Negotiations? Learn to Make Concessions

We’ll get to the negotiations part in a second.

I used to write editorials for the paper when I was in high school.  I basically had to come up with an argument, then list out reasons and points to support that argument.  It was kind of like being on the debate team, but I wrote instead of talked, and no one could talk back.

That didn’t necessarily make it any easier.  Coming up with a cohesive point is one thing, but trying to find ways to convince people to change the way they see something is another nut entirely.

One of the best strategies I learned through that experience is using something called “concessions.”

We’re not talking about cotton candy and pretzels at the hockey arena.  Making a concession in negotiations is essential conceeding a point.  In other words, you’re acknowledging that the other side HAS a point.  In doing so, you’re accomplishing two things: 1) you’re making the other person feel listened to, understood, and respected by showing them you see the value in what they want and/or believe, and 2) you’re showing that you’re looking at all sides of the equation, showing that you’re not just making a half-assed decision.

Let’s do an example.  Say that I’m talking to my friend Ryan about where to go for pizza.  He wants to go to Nino’s, and I want to go to Nuno’s.*

I argue my point, but first I start with a concession: “Y’know — you’re right.  Nino’s DOES have great tomato sauce.  And that’s a good place.  But Nuno’s is closer, it’s cheaper, and they’re having a two-for-one deal tonight.”

I’ve conceded that Ryan has a point and I understand his argument.  In doing so, he’ll be more likely to be open to my point of view and feel good about the exchange.

Arguments are usually much more hairy and complicated than this, obviously.  But you get the gist.  You can apply this tactic to any sort of business dealing or discussion; negotiating with a vendor, arguing with a partner, resolving issues with customers, etc.  The more people feel like you’re listening to them, the more the negotiations will end not just in your favor, but that both sides feel respected and positive.  I concede — this doesn’t always work.  But it helps.

* For the record, there are no pizza places nearby named Nino’s OR Nuno’s.  But I do have a friend named Ryan, and I believe he does like pizza.