Learn to listen like a trained negotiator

Negotiating is a valuable skill and inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. Hostage negotiators, such as those in the police or FBI, are trained to get people to change their minds.

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit and provides five steps in getting someone else to see your point of view and to change what they’re doing. Not just a tool for criminals to drop their weapons, but one that applies to almost any form of disagreement:

  1. Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.
  2. Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.
  3. Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.
  4. Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem-solving with them and recommend a course of action.
  5. Behavioural Change: They act. (And, figuratively speaking, come out with their hands up.)

Where you’re going wrong

It’s likely that you’re skipping the first three steps and going in at at step four (Influence), with you expecting the other person to immediately go to step five (Behavioural Change). This doesn’t work as we’re not fundamentally rational beings.

Instead of making it our first objective in any argument to be one of listening to the other side, we don’t do that. Instead, emotions get in the way and the argument becomes heated.

Trained professional negotiators, however, use six techniques to persuade others to change their mind:

1. Ask open-ended questions

You don’t want yes or no answers, you want them to open up. A good open-ended question would be “Sounds like you’ve had a tough time. Tell me how it all happened.” It is non-judgmental, shows interest and is likely to lead to more information about the other person’s situation. What you don’t want are bullish questions forcing the other side to give one-word answers. This can communicate a sense of urgency and will build, rather than defuse, tension.

2. Effective pauses

Pausing is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional. Eventually, even those who are emotionally wrought will find it difficult to sustain a one-sided argument, and will return to meaningful dialogue with negotiators. By remaining silent at the right times, you can move the overall negotiation process forward.

3. Minimal encouragers

These are brief statements to let the person know you’re listening and to keep them talking. Even relatively simple phrases, such as “yes,” “O.K.,” or “I see,” effectively convey that you’re paying attention to the subject. These responses will encourage the other side to keep talking and gradually relinquish more control of the situation to you.

4. Mirroring

Mirroring is where you repeat the last word or phrase the person said to show you’re listening and engaged. Yes, it’s that simple — just repeat the last word or two: so that they might say “I’m fed up of being pushed around,” to which you can respond ” you’re feeling fed up?”

5. Paraphrasing

Repeating what the other person is saying back to them in your own words is called paraphrasing. It’s a powerful tool that says you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting. The idea here is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them. It’s a discovery process for both sides. You’re first trying to find out what’s important to them and secondly, trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense to them

6. Emotional labelling

Giving a name to their feelings shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Don’t comment on the validity of them but show them you understand.

A good use of emotional labelling would be “You sound a bit upset – It doesn’t seem fair” because it recognizes their feelings without judging them. It’s a good empathetic response because it identifies the emotion underpinning the anger the other side feels. A poor response would be “You don’t need to feel that way. It doesn’t seem worth getting upset about.” It’s judgmental, telling them how not to feel, therefore undervaluing their response.

Curious to find out more? Want to learn about active listening? Give us a call on 01865 881056 or send us an email to info@leaderslab.co.uk