Listening for Dynamic Information


active listening in negotiation

You cannot have a negotiated agreement without obtaining information that is beneficial to you. In light of that, no matter what happens there is critical information pertaining to the deal that can only be obtained at the negotiation table, and what's worse is that you don't necessarily know when this information is going to reveal itself. If this were true would you really want your brain to go offline during such an important interaction?

Every time you have to stop and mentally construct what you want to say next or try and lay out a thought pattern that is a rebuttal to your counterpart, a large portion of your brain goes offline. This is what we at Black Swan refer to as mental multitasking. For your counterpart this is comparable to dealing with a schizophrenic. For your and science sake, this equates to missed opportunity and according to recent studies multitasking in general is actually damaging to your brain. So if you think you can masterfully construct counter-arguments and fully listen for dynamics, chances are you're probably wrong.

So then how do you effectively discuss/negotiate a circumstance where you have real skin in the game and can't afford to miss critical bits of information? The answer is to "actively listen". The key word here is active, meaning you are constantly priming your counterpart for information in a very specific manner. The tools Black Swan teaches for active listening have a foundation from the FBI 8 active listening skills. What we have done is expand on this list and adapt it to the private sector. In negotiation you want to prime your counterpart in a way that displays understanding, reveals black swans, gathers information and keeps your brain online all the while leaving you in a position to reveal nothing.

Personally, I feel as though the term “active listening” is overused and has essentially become a cliché. I also think that this is a bad descriptor for what we teach. Maybe a better way to put it is incorporating a specialized set of skills leading to understanding and trust, a variable checklist of intuitive response (VCIR). The manner in which you execute is based on your intuitive reading of your counterpart’s reactions/responses. In other words, think of a card game like spades or poker. You already know what you have and what you are trying to accomplish with your hand. No matter what that is, it is not going to change but the manner in which you execute your hand is based on the actions of the people playing the game with you. If you are so focused on what you have, then you will miss the opportunity to adjust based on what the other players are doing. You may want to bet low to reel them in or bet high to test their resolve. This is the same in a negotiation if you are so focused only on your objectives and don't adapt based on the counterparts process you leave yourself vulnerable.

In every card game, or negotiation there always comes a time when you have to reveal your entire hand. When that time comes do you want to proceed knowing you got the best information you could or do you want to hope that the other players will heed to your process. Remember, hope is not a strategy.

Read more articles from Brandon and learn about the Effectively Influencing Others course.

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About The Author

Brandon Voss is the Director of Operations and an Instructor/Consultant with The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.