DAVID J. VOLK, ESQ.: Winning Listening and Negotiating Skills Are Keys to Effective Communication
By David J. Volk // May 19, 2023
we must understand that the key to negotiating is to be a great listener
By David J. Volk
Before we think of negotiating, we must understand that the key to negotiating is to be a great listener.
The great communicator listens carefully to try to determine the motivation of the other person. Listening carefully means giving your full attention to the other person rather than thinking about what you will say next as soon as that person will just shut up. As Marshall Goldsmith in The One Skill That Separates, p. 86, Fast Company, July 2005 sums it up, you must ‘Listen without distraction.’
Winners listen to try to understand the other person’s motivation and try and create comfort. A good communicator should follow the 80-20 Rule for most occasions. This requires you to listen eighty percent of the time and speak twenty percent of the time. If that is too much to achieve, you have two ears and one mouth. Try to use them in that proportion.
How many people blow it because they can not stop talking? How many people so love their own voice that they have to chime in whether it helps them or not? We often steal defeat from the jaws of victory. When a lawyer goes to Court to argue, he or she can lose because they keep arguing when the hearing has already been won. Something you thought just had to be tossed in as the knockout punch can make the Judge (or the vendor or the customer) realize some point that they had not considered while leaning toward granting you what you are seeking.
At times, you need to know when to not talk at all. Consider the robber that insisted on representing himself at trial because he had been through the system a number of times and thought he could do much better than any defense lawyer. Our clever criminal questioned the victim and, confidently looking out at the courtroom, asked, “do you see the man that robbed you here in the courtroom?” He obviously thought the victim would scan those at the counsel tables and the gallery.
The victim instead blurted out, “yes, it was you.” The accused lost his composure and said, “I should have shot you when I had the chance…..If … I’d been there!” If you think it is all about how smart you are and what you say, you may get a similar result.
Whenever you are communicating, you are selling something. Selling means you are trying to convince someone of something rather than demanding they do what you want. You need to know the other person and yourself. Spend time thinking about what you are trying to accomplish. Is it to get a quick sale or to get a long-term client and friend? Business is not just about getting a sale today.
It should be much more than that. It should be about developing long-term relationships. To develop those relationships, you need to understand your counterpart’s agenda to include it in the final result. Do right by someone, and they will come back to you and recommend you to others. This is so easy it is amazing that we have to remind ourselves of it. You should focus more on the other person’s goals or objectives than on yours.
Ask yourself whether you really know anything about that person before you start trying to force something on them. ‘What do they want’ should be the question you ask over and over. When I meet with a client with a problem, the first order of business is not all the wonderful things I can do for them, such as a wildly expensive scorched earth battle that makes groundbreaking legal precedent. The first order of business is what they would consider a reasonable outcome. Once that is determined, we can work as a team to get to that goal.
It would be simplistic to think we can sit back and receive a flood of information from the other person. If that will not happen, we must use one of the most potent weapons of all communication: the open-ended question. In the courtroom, a leading question is frowned upon if the witness is not hostile to you. A leading question hints at the answer and is often answered by a simple yes or no.
Do not lead when you are trying to understand. The open-ended question is something along the lines of ‘have I left anything out,’ ‘why do you ask that,’ how would you use this if you owned it,’ ‘what features are you looking for,’ and ‘what are the one or two points that are most important to you.’ When you ask these sort of questions, you gain valuable information and you make the person understand that you care about their needs.
To unlock the vault of what others need or value, you may have to be patient. I was told over and over while growing up that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your success is often won over a long period of time.
A great benefit of being a great listener is that you will find that others like you more. In Get Anyone to Do Anything: Never Feel Powerless Again–With Psychological Secrets to Control and Influence Every Situation (St. Martin’s Griffin 2000), David J. Lieberman does not give you tricks to use.
He focuses on psychological principles such as the author’s number one rule for getting what you want: get people to like you. Our natural state is that we like to give and help. Who gets a raise by yelling and criticizing the boss? Think about what makes you like another person.
Let’s move on to discussing some rules for negotiating. Once you understand your counterpart’s expressed motivations, you should understand that, of the unexpressed motivations, fear and lust are the most powerful.
Now then, do not get too excited. The lust referenced is the generally defined ‘intense desire or craving’ type. Whoever wants the deal most is likely to pay the higher price. Conversely, you should never let your opponent know your level of power or desperation. Walk away if you must, and let time work for you if you can.
These all sound like simple guidelines rather than cutting-edge theory that has just been developed. Surprise, surprise. Many of the rules we are talking about have very old foundations. Benjamin Franklin’s method of persuading others to his point of view took patience and endurance. It assumed that people are won over slowly, often indirectly. If you don’t win the bargain today, Franklin would say, go after it again tomorrow – and the next day.
Here are some of Franklin’s bargaining tips:
■ Be clear, in your own mind, about exactly what you’re after.
■ Do your homework so that you are fully prepared to discuss every aspect and respond to every question and comment.
■ Be persistent. Don’t expect to “win” the first time. Your first job is just to start the other person thinking.
■ Make friends with the person with whom you are bargaining. Put your bargain in terms of his or her needs, advantages, and benefits.
■ Keep your sense of humor.
In Attorney’s Practice Guide to Negotiations (Callaghan & Company 1985), Phillip Sperber reminds us to attempt to satisfy the psychological needs of the other side, solve the problems of the other side or help the other side reach their goals so that agreement is more desirable than the status quo, convince the other party that the solution to its problem or goal has been reached and that an agreement is struck only when one party believes that the other party will make no further meaningful concessions.
We need to remember our negotiations do not take place in a vacuum. Sperber also reminds us we must consider the variables or terrain we are operating in, such as the duration of the relationship, whether the parties must deal with each other again, who is initiating the negotiation, the type of transaction, and whether the parties are friendly, hostile, in fear of or neutral to each other.
On a final note, how you speak and your choice of words is as important as the points you are making. To succeed, be enthusiastic and self-assured that what you are discussing is doable. Don’t drone on; get to the point when you have a point to make. Be precise in what your say by avoiding vague phrases, wimpy words, and statements that sound like questions. For others to accept it, you have to sound like you believe in what you are saying.
And now the tedious disclaimer. Sorry, have to do it. The matters discussed here are general in nature and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. Every specific legal matter requires specific legal attention. The law is constantly changing, and matters discussed today may not be the same tomorrow. Legal matters are also subject to different interpretations by attorneys, judges, jurors, and scholars. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created as a result of the matters discussed here. You should consult counsel of your choice if you have any dealings in these areas of the law. Volk Law Offices, P.A. and its attorneys and other employees make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the matters addressed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Volk, a Business Litigation Attorney with Volk Law Offices, P.A., has 34 years of experience. The matters discussed here are general in nature and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. Every specific legal matter requires specific legal attention. The law is constantly changing, and matters discussed today may not be the same tomorrow.
Legal matters are also subject to different interpretations by attorneys, judges, jurors, and scholars. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created as a result of the matters discussed here. You should consult the counsel of your choice if you have any dealings in these areas of the law. Volk Law Offices, P.A. and its attorneys make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the matters addressed.
David Volk can be reached at Help@VolkLawOffices.com or by visiting VolkLaw online at VolkLawOffices.com.