According to a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia, we spend 70-80% of our day communicating with others, 45% of which is spent listening. But not all listening is created equal, especially when it comes to managing vendor relationships.
We’ve all experienced a conversation where the other person was nodding along or adding an “uh-huh” every few sentences. Maybe they even kept great eye contact. But you could tell that they were not actually paying attention to – or understanding – what you were saying, perhaps leaving you feeling unvalued, distrusting, or frustrated.
This type of listening doesn’t work well in negotiations, not only because it makes the other party (OP) feel badly but because it leaves you unable to maintain content awareness. Without comprehending what the OP is saying, you can’t put all your other negotiation skills into practice to try and reach your desired goal.
That’s where active listening comes in.
What is active listening?
Active listening requires us to be actively engaged with what another person is saying to us, from the content to the context to the delivery. This is the most critical negotiating skill and one of the most difficult to master: “Negotiators appreciate that it is more difficult to listen than to speak and real listening requires constant practice,” according to the experts at ENS International.
Active listening is not:
- Sitting and waiting patiently for the OP to be done talking
- Adding an “I understand” or “uh-huh” occasionally
- Holding eye contact, nodding, or smiling blankly
- Planning out what you’re going to say next in your head
Common blockers to active listening
Effective active listening can only be achieved by actively engaging with the OP’s speaking. But there are plenty of common blockers that can get in the way. For example, jumping to conclusions, interrupting, not keeping an open mind, or hearing only what we want to hear.
Our feelings about the OP can also be a blocker. Personal biases or opinions about the OP’s personality or appearance, judgements of the OP’s delivery, or not having respect for them and feeling superior can all get in the way of active listening.
How can active listening help you negotiate better?
Most experienced negotiators would agree that active listening is the most critical skill to develop for effective negotiating. It can aid a negotiation in a number of ways: calming any tensions, making the OP feel respected, ensuring all information is successfully exchanged and absorbed, understanding and handling objections, and breaking through a deadlock situation.
Active listening is the key to both parties gathering all the information that will enable them to dive deep on an issue. The more insight you can gather from the OP, the more power you have to achieve your desired outcome in the negotiation.
4 behaviors to help you be an active listener
Maybe you read all this and think, “Great, but I’m already a good listener. So what?” That’s a fair question, but unfortunately many people overestimate their negotiation and listening skills.
As you work to become a better active listener, practice behaviors such as:
After someone has made their point, summarize what they said back to them to show you’ve grasped what they wanted to say. For instance, “My understanding is that your goal is…” This showcases that you are willing to try and have empathy for their side of the situation.
- Asking questions
Posing a question to the OP shows you’re interested, engaged, and open to exploring all sides of the discussion. It also gives the OP the opportunity to expand on their points and prevent any misunderstandings about what they want to communicate. Try asking questions like “Can you please explain what you mean by…?” or “When you stated… did you mean…?”
Using all the information you’ve gained by active listening, offer some acknowledgement of the OP’s concerns to indicate your desire to solve the problem together.
- Mentally engaging to maintain content awareness
ENS suggests that we use some internal practices to remain aware of what the OP is saying. For example: make comparisons and contrasts; mentally repeat the OP’s phrases; ask yourself what the OP wants you to do, think, or believe; and try to read between the lines (understand what isn’t being said).
Negotiate better with Sastrify
The experts at Sastrify know firsthand how important the topic of negotiation is for companies these days, especially with added complications from many discussions happening virtually. Procurement teams have seemingly endless negotiations with vendors, and these will only increase on the software size as the average number of SaaS tools per company increases.
That’s why we’ve developed a whole set of valuable resources to help businesses negotiate better SaaS contracts. From webinars to blogs to reports, we’ll help you become a virtual negotiation expert in no time.
Check out our negotiation resource hub here.