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Listening as a Negotiation and Mediation Skill

Civil Negotiation and Mediation by Nancy Hudgins

I taught a series of classes on Civil Negotiation and Mediation to law students at the National University of Mongolia School of Law last month. I began the active listening lesson by pointing out that while hearing is passive, listening is active.

I asked the students to think of someone they knew who was a really good listener. I then asked them, what qualities do really good listeners have? They responded: good eye contact, welcoming (or open) body language, not interrupting and being patient. (There appeared to be no cultural differences about this skill.)

I taught them active listening skills and they practiced them in class: being present, looping back what the person had said, asking if they had understood the other person correctly, saying “Tell me more.” I then gave them homework: try these skills on a friend or family member and report back how the conversation went.

One of the students had the brilliant idea to try the opposite. She did everything she could not to listen while a friend was talking with her. She reported that her friend got very upset during the conversation and finally said in an anguished voice, “You’re not listening to me!”

It was a vivid reminder of the power of listening. All of us liked to be listened to. The deeper the listening, the more we feel heard. The more we feel heard, the better we feel: about ourselves and about the listener.

These listening skills are useful for both negotiators and mediators. For negotiators, active listening sets the stage for persuasion. For mediators, it is an integral part of connecting with the parties and surfacing underlying needs and interests.


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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