Tip 7: Listen, Listen, Listen

It’s wise to heed the ancient Chinese proverb, “You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in those proportions.” Indeed, an important tactic I’ve learned about negotiations and communication is the power of listening. It’s as deceptively difficult to do as it is simple to explain – listen before you speak. By simply working to make your buyer feel heard, by truly listening to them and letting them speak, you can steer clear of many of the common pitfalls of negotiation.

Let’s go through some of the advantages of working to listen before you speak at the negotiation table.

Fully Understand the Buyer’s Position

Listen to the buyer’s points in full before responding. I can’t tell you how many times I paid the price of not listening early in my career. A buyer would reach out to me and begin to voice their concerns. I would immediately respond by interrupting and attempting to address what I thought their concerns were, or should be. In most cases, I was wrong, and my unwillingness to listen frustrated the buyer. Eventually, I learned it was more effective to keep my mouth shut and fully listen to the buyer before responding, even if the buyer initially made an insulting statement regarding the business I was representing. By patiently listening, I could fully understand the buyer’s position and point of view, which helped foster trust. 

Buyers Talk Themselves Out of Their Own Concerns

I eventually began to view these conversations as a poker game – the more I got the buyer to talk, the more of their cards I could see. I also learned to ask lots of follow-up questions because each tipped the buyer’s hand just a little more. I lost nothing by listening and gained everything from it. Only after I fully explored the buyer’s position by asking follow-up questions did I attempt to respond. Surprisingly, in many cases, the buyer talked themselves right through their own problems, and I offered no input other than a listening ear.

Find the Buyer’s True Concerns

When a buyer tells you a concern, it’s often a symptom of another underlying issue. How do you find out? Ask questions – lots of questions. And dig deeper. And then dig a little deeper. An excellent relationship with the buyer, especially one built on actively listening and showing that they’ve been heard, will help uncover their true concerns. For example, if the buyer expresses issues they have about your IT infrastructure, find out what their underlying concerns are. Digging deeper into the issue can help you eventually uncover their true concerns, in this case, the fact that they are worried about having a platform for the technology solutions they plan to implement. Acknowledge what the buyer is saying by occasionally repeating back what you’re hearing, and asking follow-up questions to fully understand their concerns. This line of questioning will often reveal a deeper concern than the one they initially voiced.

Address the Buyer’s Concerns Directly

In most cases, you shouldn’t immediately respond when you discover the buyer’s true concerns – you have nothing to gain by doing so. Simply tell the buyer you’ll give this some thought and get back to them. Then prepare a game plan for addressing these concerns with your advisor. Your advisor can then follow up directly with the buyer and work out a solution – doing so keeps you out of the negotiations, which helps you maintain emotional objectivity and reduces your sunk costs.