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Negotiation Mistake 2: Selling, Not Listening

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

(This is the second in a series of 7 Mistakes Really Good Negotiators Make.)

Lawyers are taught to be message deliverers.

We are not taught to listen.

Yet the social psychology of persuasion teaches us that when we have first listened to another person, we are more likely to persuade that person when it’s our turn to talk.

I know, I know. It’s hard to give up the certainty/illusion that you are the smartest person in the room. But as a Canadian physician who had taken some listening training once said, “I discovered it’s better to listen than to be smart.”

Here are three (of many) potential advantages to listening during any negotiation:

1. You might learn something. Larry King, the recently retired talk show host: “I never learned anything when I was talking.”

2. You set the stage for having the other side listen to you. Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

3. You might capture a verbal leak. More frequently than you would expect, the other side will say something against their interests while they are talking.

Even where there is no joint session, listening during small talk can reap rewards.

Try these three listening skills:

1. Give your full attention. Be fully present.

2. Suspend your judgment. Don’t argue (in your mind) against what the other side has said. Just listen.

3. Check to make sure you understood by giving a quick summary, and then asking if you understood what they said correctly.

Try this change in approach to your next mediation. Rather than go in trying to sell your position to the other side, go in with a plan of being curious and trying to learn something from the other side. If you take the time to listen, you might hear something that will either help you settle the case or give you a winning argument at trial.

Here’s a bonus. Even if you don’t use these listening skills at your next mediation, try them with someone you care about. Notice the difference in the texture of the conversation and in their response.


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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