As Negotiators have we lost the art of listening?

I have always admired the ability to bite off more than one can chew and then chew it hard.

— William DeMille



Negotiators build trust through listening

One of the great pleasures I have in working on live negotiations with senior global executives, is being able to watch great negotiators reach a successful outcome in tough circumstances. This is achieved through careful planning and a genuine connection with the other person or persons.

We have discussed in previous blogs how to use questions effectively to connect and engage with the other negotiators, but you build real trust through your listening skills.

Here is the rub and reality, there are so many distractions today in everybody’s life that most adults are lousy listeners and even worse in tough negotiations.

Let me share a story from my private life, which I don’t do as a norm but occasionally exceptions need to be made. My wife Gillian Kozicki is a well renowned global ferment revivalist and runs her own business through . This means we get to go to a lot of functions with fresh, locally grown organic food, most still with dirt on them.

Last Saturday we went to an event celebrating fresh food, in a great dinner party setting. The organiser who is a lovely lady has a habit of occasionally serving dishes without cutlery. She likes the connection between taste and the tactile experience of feeling food on your hands, or straight to your lips with oysters etc. The first couple of dishes were both delicious and civilised, because we could use cutlery. As we started conversing with the other guests I noticed that people were interrupting each other to share their stories; their listening skills were very poor. But, the real shock for me was how many of the guests were trying to talk and send messages on their smart phones at the same time. There is a reason you can’t use your phone whilst driving.

This is also one of the reasons that people are poor listeners in live negotiations, because they mistakenly believe that they can successfully multitask - without negative issues.

I make a point of learning people’s names at these functions and then repeating back key elements of what they have shared with me to ensure I have understood their message. The best global negotiators are deep genuine listeners and this respectful connection with the other side builds trust. These great negotiators do not bring their smart phone into any preparation or live negotiation. A powerful way to establish trust is to demonstrate that you have listened to the other side’s real interests without being bogged down by the different positions that people take. I often see cranky people who have been weaned on a pickle slowly respond as the empathy builds through real behaviours that help trust grow. At this point real problem solving and creativity flourish.

Back to the dinner party, and the next bit was almost like a scene out of a Mr Bean movie. Before we had left home and being aware that our host likes to serve food without cutlery, I got creative. I found a small spoon big enough to be useful but small enough to be concealed. I put it into a sealed bag, and I was ready to face the night ahead.

Then the dish came out, I was ready. As the food was placed down in front of me I skilfully produced the spoon.  I enjoyed the serving and was ready for whatever was thrown at me. However our fellow dinner guests in this gastronomical journey looked at me in half shock, half jealousy. They put down their smart phones and actually talked, first about the spoon but this soon opened up many stories of travel and food. It was lively, with real eye contact and the dinner guests engaging and sharing. In fact it was fantastic and fun. As each finished their story, I either asked another question or thanked them by name. All remarked that I had a great memory and asked what I did for a living. I shared my life and also that I never have my smart phone out at live negotiations or dinner parties - because I believe smart phones make us dumb. I shared some stories and concluded that the more distracted we are the less we listen, and when you don’t listen deeply, people, friends or negotiators will never trust you. As the last dish arrived, the host distracted me and confiscated my spoon. I was forced to eat the dessert with a combination of my fingers and biscuits, I survived - and privately admit, it was quite nice.

So, when you get a team together to prepare for a final external negotiation, confiscate their smart phones and you will have a much better, creative session. You can’t create value with a decision maker if you don’t understand what it is that they are trying to achieve. Deep listening internally will also help prepare for any external negotiation and as a result, a much better outcome.

For more guidance on achieving better outcomes from tough negotiations contact us on +61 2 9450 1040 or Please share any comments and subscribe to our blog at the top right of the page.