Everyone has his or her own idea of what active listening means. Many incorrectly associate this negotiating muscle with their concept of aggressive listening, where we stick to the other party’s every word looking for a slip up or outright error upon which we can pounce.
We see that in a happy context at the pub on NFL Sunday afternoons as friends merrily jostle on behalf of their favorite teams and football heroes. Sadly, we also often see this in domestic disputes. Either way, this type of aggressive listening for ‘upmanship’ has no place in negotiations.
Active listening is a negotiating muscle that helps us to make the complicated more easily understood. It is a technique that helps us get facts easily, and in the proper perspective.
The first step in developing our active listening skills is to always use simple language. If there is something the other party is saying that we don’t understand, we shouldn’t hesitate to immediately ask for clarification. Granted, it is not considered polite to interrupt. However there is a huge difference between asking someone to clarify and interrupting.
Generally, people will be appreciative that we care enough to thoroughly understand what they are trying to say. But there are far more important reasons for requesting simplicity.
All too often we assume we know what our counterparts are talking about, or that we’ll be able to figure it out. That’s when we might get into trouble as other points are built upon what we don’t fully understand.
The further behind we fall, the more boring everything becomes. We start letting our thoughts wander, or start mentally preparing a response that has little to do with what was actually said.
A frustrated “But I just explained that to you!” can be an embarrassing reminder and a potential loss of personal credibility.
Another reason for asking for simplicity or clarification is to test the other party’s knowledge of the issue. If others can’t state their positions succinctly, they may not be entirely on top of their own facts. The less secure we are with our own understanding, the more we tend to talk in a non-descript manner.
In active listening, we may also want to repeat and summarize the other party’s point, before moving onto the next. We need not feel embarrassed doing this, as it gives other side the opportunity to correct us if there is something we didn’t get.
Here is where we can ask for peripheral material or information that will back up someone’s facts. Besides making us more knowledgeable, professing our need for simplicity is more diplomatic than simply asking for proof.