Active listening Lessons From FBI Negotiators That Will Get You What You Want
Active listening is the opposite of passive hearing
In any negotiation, people want two things out of the conversation — to get what they want and still walk away with the relationship intact.
The good news is, you can get both outcomes — by leveraging influence, and emotion, you can use the same strategies of FBI hostage negotiators.
Whether you’re asking for a raise, selling a product, buying a house, or just deciding where to go on holiday with your partner, your negotiating skills will determine how pleased you are with the outcome.
One skill that will have a positive impact on your future negotiation style is active listening — a technique requires that the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.
Much like a therapist listening to a client, you negotiate by acting as a sounding board rather than ready to jump in with your own ideas and opinions. It’s is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives.
Negotiation expert Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI and author of Never Split the Difference (named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 7 best negotiation books of all time) explains;
If while you’re making your argument, the only time the other side is silent is because they’re thinking about their own argument, they’ve got a voice in their head that’s talking to them. They’re not listening to you. When they’re making their argument to you, you’re thinking about your argument, that’s the voice in your head that’s talking to you.
The FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit developed the Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) for a negotiation process. BCSM consists of five stages: active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioural change. Progression through these stages occurs sequentially and cumulatively.
- Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.
- Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.
- Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.
- Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem-solving with them and recommend a course of action.
- Behavioural Change: They act. (And maybe come out with their hands up.)
These techniques can be applied in everyday negotiation scenarios. It’s not only useful crisis negotiation, — it can be applied to almost any form of disagreement, or conflict in life and at work.
Gary Noesner, former chief negotiator with the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group and author of Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator discussed the use of active listening techniques. He writes;
During negotiations with a subject, negotiators must demonstrate that they are listening attentively and are focused on the subject’s words. Negotiators can convey these qualities either through body language or brief verbal replies that relate interest and concern. The responses need not be lengthy. By giving occasional, brief, and well-timed vocal replies, negotiators demonstrate that they are following what the subject says. Even relatively simple phrases, such as “yes,” “O.K.,” or “I see,” effectively convey that a negotiator is paying attention to the subject. These responses will encourage the subject to continue talking and gradually relinquish more control of the situation to the negotiator.
Active listening is a difficult skill to master. Most people are terrible at listening. They skip this step and start talking. To get what you want in a negotiation, listen to what your counterpart is saying — don’t interrupt, disagree or evaluate, just listen first.
Here’s Chris again, “If your first objective in the negotiation, instead of making your argument, is to hear the other side out, that’s the only way you can quiet the voice in the other guy’s mind. But most people don’t do that. They don’t walk into a negotiation wanting to hear what the other side has to say. They walk into a negotiation wanting to make an argument. They don’t pay attention to emotions and they don’t listen.”
To take the negotiation to another level, “Negotiate in their world” argues Chris Voss in his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. “Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.”
Truly effective negotiators are conscious of what they say, and their choice of words. “Even changing a single word when you present options — like using “not lose” instead of “keep” — can unconsciously influence the conscious choices your counterpart makes,” says Voss.
If you want to influence or persuade anyone, improve your listening skills — It’s the most active thing you can do. Negotiation is a process of discovery. Uncover as much information as possible. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and with that knowledge, move the discussion forward.