Active Listening – Part 2

May 13, 2009 on 11:39 pm | In Negotiations | Comments Off

In our last post we talked about some of the techniques you can use to develop better skills at active listening. In this post we will talk about some additional active listening skills and also about some tools for persuasion.

When the situation calls for it, and negotiations usually do, a question often comes up over whether you can take notes while engaged in active listening. Certainly you have to drop the eye contact to look at a piece of paper, but the simple answer is yes – it is appropriate to take notes. LIMITED notes. Why limited? While eye contact encourages a focus on what is being said, most people will remember better things that they write down. By making limited notes you can focus on those most important things and commit them to memory. Further, some note taking suggests to the speaker that you consider something they said so important that it is worth making a “permanent” record of it. And there is something interesting about the written word. When we see something in writing, we naturally believe that it is more accurate [you know like they say, “I found it on the web so it must be true!”] Obviously that is NOT true, but we laugh because it is “almost” true. We are more likely to believe something that is written down, and if you are writing what the speaker is saying, you are encouraging them with the subliminal message that you believe what they are saying. So yes, it’s OK to take notes during active listening, but keep it limited and only the high points. Keep it short so that you can re-engage the eye contact.

When you are speaking there are a few techniques that will encourage active listening by your audience. Certainly the use of eye contact and positive body language just as when you are listening, but now you also have the tool of your voice. Speak softly, but loud enough to be heard. Temper your words. Do not be aggressive with your language or your attitude, just as you should not appear condescending. If your listener perceives that you are speaking down to them, they will stop listening and begin plotting their revenge. You can’t control their perceptions completely, but you can work toward not antagonizing them! And I can’t emphasize this enough – there is NEVER a place for vulgarity or profanity. Remove those words from your language in all situations.

When making an argument, break it down into bite-sized pieces. Don’t lay everything out at once. Make it follow a logical progression. Ideally you want them to reach your conclusion before you get to it. In that way they perceive it as their own idea. This is good. Don’t make the waters murky either; concentrate on the key points and ignore the inconsequential ones. In the same vein, stay focused and try to keep the conversation on point.

Another strong suggestion for being persuasive is to make sure that you advocate for a particular position rather than simply being against theirs. If you just disagree, you will be perceived as just disagreeable. This does not enhance the relationship and remember that all negotiations involve three aspects – the subject matter, the process, and the relationship. Have a particular result in mind, but there is no need to be dogmatic about it. Keep in mind that you are on a quest for the ultimate interests. Positions are where you end up after you understand the interests.

Another excellent suggestion is to eliminate the word “but” from your lexicon. Why? Because whenever there is a “but” in a sentence it is a big red flag that says “everything that came before this is about to be negated.” It is an indirect (and passive/aggressive) way to say, “You are all wrong!” People don’t like that. So what if instead of using “but” you convert every one into an “and?” This validates what they have said and adds to it. Try this in your everyday conversation. You will see a very different reaction from those around you.

And the last suggestion today is this: Don’t worry about who gets credit for an idea that closes the deal. The goal is to close the deal. If your ego is that large, you probably aren’t an active listener (or a very good negotiator) anyway!

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