by Jennifer Knowles, Life-Long Learner & Serial Entrepreneur
Every negotiation begins with communication. Success depends largely on the circumstance, the amount of time available, your motivation, skills and the person you are negotiating with. While negotiating with a 2-year-old requires equal measures of empathy, patience, and good communication skills, these same tools are just as relevant when negotiating with your partner, boss, or that contract you want to close.
Before I jump into sharing “My Favorite Communication Hack”, it’s helpful to begin with a definition.
In the simplist terms, communication is comprised of listening and responding.
(Notice how listening comes first.)
There are numerous tools to use in artful communication but for the purposes of simplicity and time (we are all busy Lady Bosses right?), I am going to share my favorite which has been the most helpful in my personal and business life and that is Active Listening.
The purpose of this particular skill is to establish absolute clarity about what the other person is needing, feeling and wanting. The benefits are obvious but I’ll spell them out anyway. In order to sell an idea, product or service, you must know what your client, boss, partner, or child is needing, feeling and wanting in order to negotiate a successful outcome.
First step: Understanding the process.
Active Listening is NOT politely taking turns speaking and holding your tongue while the other talks. Active Listening invites you to be actively present while listening to the other person speak without preparing your response before they have finished talking. I find it helpful to have a pen and paper (old school) to take notes or write down key words especially if the other person is long-winded or has a lot they want to communicate. This serves two purposes. 1) It shows the other person that what they have to say is important enough that you are taking notes. 2) It also serves to keep your ego “gagged” by focussing on what the other person is saying NOT the response you are formulating in your head (that will come later if this first step is successful). Once the other person has finished speaking, you then repeat back what you THINK you heard them say, using your notes as prompts. This gives the other person the opportunity to correct you and/or add to their own response for more clarity. Once they have finished correcting or adding, you once again repeat back what you THINK you understood them to be saying. Get it? ABSOLUTE CLARITY.
The biggest obstacle is your ego and becoming aware of that incredible urge to respond, defend, counter etc. It may seem like it takes forever (this listening stuff), but it is guaranteed to save you time, which is the most valuable resource a Ladyboss has.
Second step: Committing to the process.
While it is certainly more effective, it doesn’t matter if the other person with whom you are communicating isn’t familiar with or interested in using this tool, as long as you are committed you will surely make strides or at the very least gain valuable information that can be helpful with future negotiations. This takes a great deal of patience and focus on the other person but when someone feels truly heard and understood, trust develops. I don’t need to tell you how valuable trust is in any relationship be it business or personal. Imagine what could be accomplished if both parties were interested in committing to this process by taking turns actively listening to each other?
Practicing active listening isn’t rocket science and the only real requirements are empathy, patience, and practice, especially if there are big emotions involved. Start by experimenting with friends or the stranger sitting next to you on a transcontinental flight. If you notice that the other person is more open and interested in sharing because you are practicing active listening, then you’re doing it right!
Starting conversations with active listening as the focus has become my favorite communication hack, but there are a variety of other communication tools that can be added to assist with negotiations and clinching a deal. Methods like Nonviolent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication, along with learning to read body language, using mirroring, validating, and understanding cultural nuances are just a few. There are even weekly practice groups available if you want to totally geek out practicing the art of communication. From my experience, the time you put into actively listening to someone on the front end will save you time and even money on the back end. You might even learn something interesting you would have otherwise missed while your mouth was open and your ears were shut.
Here are some of my favorite books on the subject:
Nonviolent Communication (A Language of Life, by Marhsall B. Rosenberg
Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone Your Communication Skills, by Nixaly Leonardo LCSW
Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication, by Kara Alaimo
Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt PhD