I am absolutely horrible at remembering people’s names. Moments after an introduction, when someone has just said their name, it’s already gone. I’ll go back and try to remember the introduction, but when I call back the memory, it goes something like this:
Me: Hi, I’m Lelia.
Mystery person: Hi, I’m [beeeeeeeeeep].
This has become such a frustrating problem that I’ve researched ways to get better at it. They haven't worked. But I did learn that one reason that it’s difficult to remember names when meeting new people is that we’re so focused on making a good impression that we forget to listen. Psychologists call this the “next-in-line effect”.
This happens all the time in negotiation. You can be so worried about what you’re going to say next or how to respond to that last point that you can forget to listen to what the other person is saying.
Use Active Listening
One way to overcome this potential pitfall is through active listening, a process that’s all the rage among teachers and counselors. Active listening focuses on how you respond to your counterpart to ensure they feel heard. When they talk, make good eye contact and give the occasional nod. Once they finish, paraphrase or ask questions about what they’ve said before you make a new statement.
You could say,
- “Am I understanding you correctly that your biggest concern is about our billable hours this month?”
- “It sounds like there’s no way to improve the financial package associated with this offer. Is that right?”
- “It’s Marigny? What a beautiful name. How is that spelled?”
Take the brunch time banter on Sex and the City as a perfect example of what not to do when it comes to listening. While their friendships stuck it out over 94 episodes and two so-so movies, our heroines were positively terrible at listening.
They were always talking at one another, trading stories like a word association game. Charlotte mentions something that happened on Tuesday’s blind date, which is peripherally relevant to Carrie’s latest tryst, which reminds Miranda of this guy she used to date, which prompts Samantha to share her latest sexual conquest in detail. Rinse. Repeat.
It may make for compelling television, but its real life corollary prevents the listener from feeling heard and hinders meaningful conversation.
In contrast, using active listening can slow down the conversation. It wouldn’t play as well on TV, but it forces you to pay attention, shows you’re invested in understanding their side, and minimizes the risk of misunderstanding.
As you strive to master active listening, don’t underestimate the power of silence. This is the most challenging aspect of listening for me. When I’m nervous I tend to speak more and more quickly – not exactly a helpful strategy in negotiation.
For example, I recently increased my prices for public speaking. Despite being very clear about my market value and knowing it was the appropriate time to raise my rates, the first time I quoted a client the new price, I immediately undermined myself. I told the client the price and didn’t even take a breath before adding, “But of course I can discount it …”
Do as I say, not as I do. When you make a request or ask a question, do it and then drop the mic. Be prepared to have uncomfortable silence, even if it means singing the ABCs in your head until your counterpart replies. If you keep talking, it lets them off the hook for responding to what you’ve said. Use silence to prompt your counterpart to speak.
As they say in the classic negotiation book Getting To Yes, “Some of the most effective negotiating you will ever do is when you’re not talking.”
In your next negotiation, try a combination of active listening and strategic silence. It’ll help you remember to listen, ensure your counterpart feels heard, and make you a more successful negotiator.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.