4 Reasons To Talk Less & Listen More When Negotiating

Imagine visiting a doctor for the first time. The minute he walks in the door, he begins sharing his credentials, his innovative surgical skills, and the amazing success he’s having with a particular drug. Before you have a chance to share your symptoms or why you are there, he informs you that taking the wonder drug would benefit you, too. Pretty absurd, right? I’m guessing you wouldn’t take the drug — or go back to a doctor that doesn’t listen to you!

Yet, many use similar counterproductive approaches as they attempt to sell or negotiate!

What’s the Problem With Talking?

We all enjoy talking about what’s important to us. The reality is that what’s a priority to you may not be a priority to those on the other side of the negotiating table. That’s why it’s crucial to listen!

Recently while at the airport, I couldn’t help but overhear one side of a lengthy phone conversation. From what I was able to gather, it was supposed to be a “consultation.” In reality, it was closer to a 30-minute monologue on the part of the speaker. I couldn’t help but feel glad that I wasn’t on the receiving end of this seemingly endless pitch. I kept wondering “when is he going to come up for air,” and “couldn’t he toss a question or two in there?”

As painful as it was for me to listen to, I feel confident that it was far worse for the person on the other end of the phone. At least I could tune out most of what was being said. In all likelihood, so did the other person.

You would expect a doctor to ask you lots of questions before deciding how to treat you, yet often we offer solutions or exchanges in a negotiation without having any idea what the other party is looking for, what’s important to them, or fully understanding their unique circumstances. In order to get that information it requires you to ask very intentional questions.

What Makes Asking Intentional Questions Effective?

1. It Quickly Establishes Their Why

In the MAP Negotiation Workshop our first key concept—or Guidepost—is Know Why. As we introduce this critical negotiation skill we talk about the importance of understanding the motivations (the Why) of the people we’re negotiating with. We believe that you must begin with this in mind, because if you don’t know what’s driving the other party’s behavior you will have to guess…or assume…and you know where that ends up! The odds of you creating a deal that speaks to their Why is slim!

Uncovering another person’s Why demands that you ask open-ended, intentional questions to draw out their Why. Then listen carefully to the responses free of your own agenda.

2. It Enables You To Strengthen Your Case

When you ask great questions, you have an opportunity to obtain valuable information that you would not otherwise have. This allows you to highlight aspects of the deal that would contribute to their Why or benefit them in ways that are important to them.

In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant discusses the incredible value of asking questions. He writes: “Questions work especially well when the audience is already skeptical of your influence, such as when you lack credibility or status, or when you’re in a highly competitive negotiation situation.

3. It Enhances The Other Party’s Experience

Asking questions requires you to listen. It provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate how important the other party is to you. Who doesn’t appreciate being heard? When the other party feels heard and understood they will generally feel better about the negotiation; and also about you!

In their study published in 2012, Diana Tamir of Princeton University and Jason Mitchell of Harvard University noted that people devote 30–40% of their speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences. In other words, we love to talk about ourselves, and the things that are important to us! When the other party is talking in self-revelatory ways, they feel pleasure and a greater sense of motivation.

According to Neil Rackham’s research more skilled negotiators asked twice as many questions than less skilled negotiators.

4. It Encourages You to Talk Less!

When negotiating, it is critical that you get the people you’re negotiating with to talk—early and often. One way to do this is to pay careful attention to the ratio of talking to listening that you are engaging in. And to ask yourself a simple question: “Why am I talking?”

This technique helps focus your energy and attention on the other party. Your goal when talking is to draw out the other party; learn as much as you can about the motivations of the other party or parties. When you know their desires, fears, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other necessary details, your deal will be more appealing.

If you find yourself straying from this purpose, it’s time to ask again, “Why am I talking?” and rein yourself back in. This is such an important concept and skill that we’ve created a memory aid that we give to our workshop participants. It’s a poker chip with the acronym W.A.I.T. printed on it. We recommend that those who are especially prone to oversharing carry it in their pocket as a physical reminder to ask intentional questions, talk less, and listen more.

Crafting great agreements that address the real needs of both parties creates sustainable relationships and avoids unnecessary competitive situations. Both parties feel better about the deals that are made, and want to do more business together.

Talking too much is a mistake many make when negotiating – my fellow traveler is not alone! Your prolific words might be costing you!

How can you talk less and listen more as you negotiate?

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Bradley Humbles

Bradley has been studying negotiation, successfully using negotiation skills, and facilitating negotiation workshops for more than 20 years. As a small business owner, Bradley understands what it takes to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

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