1. Listening to respond vs. Listening to understand
There is a very fine line between listening to understand and listening to respond. When we listen to respond, we are looking for flaws in our counterpart's reasoning. Once we pick a target within what they say, then we are waiting to interrupt them, or for them to take a long enough breath where we can interject, to point out the issues with their logic in comparison to ours. We all do this. I know that I have to stop myself from doing this especially when I feel as though my counterpart is so off base that I have to straighten them out ASAP. Very similarly to making the poor assumption that we have all the information before sitting at the negotiation table knowing we are hiding things from the other side but not being aware enough of the fact that they are doing the same thing. How often do you go through the effort of trying to get someone on the same page as you and the first chance they get to talk everything they say is argumentative and clearly the beginning of a debate over issues? What makes us think we can do the same to our counterparts?
Listening to understand is basically a different spin on active listening. Which essentially means you guide the conversation with responses like labels or carefully worded calibrated questions. Once you have gotten a true synopsis of what their viewpoint is the next step is to paraphrase back to them what their "world" looks like. Use your gathered information to articulate how they would describe what they see or feel using your skills.
Solution: Listen to understand. Employ skills like labels, mirrors, and calibrated questions to collect information and build rapport.
2. Using "I understand"
The real problem with the "I understand" response is that people use it as a poor shortcut to do both of the previous. "I understand" is commonly followed by "but," as in "I understand but listen to what I have to say now." We all know when someone says "I understand" to us they have no concept of what our problem or issue really is. Basically, this is a lazy way for them to get us to stop talking so they can interject with their own reasoning. Clearly displaying that they didn't hear a word nor have they taken it into account, but for some strange reason, they expect us to think we have been heard. But then we turn around and do it ourselves. You are doing more damage to your communication effort than you realize. Do you think that when a hostage taker is explaining why they are going to take someone's life, the negotiator says "I understand but you need to stop waving that gun around and come out so we can take you to jail."? Just the thought of that occurring and the person who said it expecting it to work is a ridiculous notion. Yet people that negotiate million dollar deals and policies impacting thousands, do it every day.
Solution: Demonstrate that you understand their point of view. Use labels to relay back what you're hearing. A label like "it sounds like.." gives them the chance to correct you, unlike the declaration that "I understand." Show them you understand their side by using a great summary to get to a "that's right" moment.
3. Asking "yes" oriented questions
Lastly, stop asking questions where you are trying to get people to say "yes." When people say "yes" it makes them extremely nervous because they don't always know exactly what they are letting themselves in for. Especially since salespeople that are dishonest try to get people to agree to things so they can take advantage of them. When you are offering someone a gain, the phrase "If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is" may be ringing in the back of their mind. So leading them into saying "yes" could cause unintended uneasiness in your counterpart. It seems counterintuitive, and in fact, it is, but it is also a reality of the situation. We know that there is research out there that shows a "yes" momentum or "yes" chain is more likely to get people to agree. In closing, there are three thoughts I would like to offer you. First, that system is designed for you to control the conversation and in fact giving the counterpart the illusion of control is the key to getting what you want. Second, there is a difference between confirmation "yeses" and commitment "yeses," as we know they are not equal and a series of confirmation does not mean or cause commitment. Lastly "yes" is the last thing you want to hear.
Solution: Ask no-orientation questions and use the Rule of 3 to ensure all your "yeses" indicate true commitment.
Avoid making these mistakes and you'll see a difference instantly in your negotiations.