So just how do we do it?

That is, how do we negotiate by listening, or exactly how do we listen?

Your first reaction is more than likely “I already listen, of course I do.”  Odds are, you probably don’t.  Like most negotiators you think if you talk enough they will be convinced of both your savoir faire and your position and sign on the line.

Listening is a multistep process.  Of course first we have to stop talking; then we must actually listen to what the other person is saying; then, we must digest what they have said and be sensitive to it; and, ultimately respond to them in a positive way.

Step one is simplified into this: shut up and listen.  It is amplified by this: ask questions and listen – don’t ask questions and then answer the questions yourself.  This is where silence comes in.  Remember, everybody is uncomfortable with silence and will try to fill the void. You must resist the temptation to fill the void and let the other party fill it. They will tell you things you need to know. So listening starts by shutting up and then perhaps asking some questions.

While they’re talking visibly show some interest (remember body language?).  One way to do this is to write down their comments or write down their question.  Then use your creative juices to come up with solutions to their problems and answers to their questions. Address their concerns.

Try to accommodate their needs, many of which will be no cost and or win-win.

Remember even when negotiating by listening, anytime you concede something ask for something in return. In the old days, I was trying to buy a lease from a family with a young son. We had worked through the tough stuff: bonus, term, royalty but I just couldn’t get them over the hump to ink the lease.  I wore them (and me) out with my silver-tongued talking. Finally, I just sat back in my chair (kitchen chair, not easy chair), folded my hands and tried to put a pleasant look on my impatient face. Five minutes passed without a sound, and then ten minutes and I didn’t even wiggle.  Finally, they began to wiggle and then the wife said quietly said to the husband, “Go ahead and tell him. Go ahead and tell him what you want.” He said, “We were just wondering if you could take a little bit of tubing and build a swing set for our son when you are out here drilling?”

In this case he was not going to give his signature until I made one more concession, the swingset, he just had a hard time asking for it.  Sometimes when, after the deal is worked out and the other party wants to tack on one more concession, we call it a nibble.  Sometimes it’s a big nibble, sometimes it’s a little nibble as it was in this case.  I was glad to oblige as it was insignificant (barely cost us anything and made him happy).

It is important to remember that our responses to their concerns should not be in the form of an argument. Arguments typically result in a wider gap than existed before the argument. Magic words to use, when they present an objection to your lease form, for example, are “I understand your concern – let’s see what language we can put in here to protect you to the point that you’re comfortable.”

Let’s go back to the subject line: negotiate by listening. It is purest form it’s very simple: listen more talk less.

Listening (silence) is an important negotiating tool.

Did you hear me?