We’ve talked about the importance of asking questions in a negotiation. But equally important to asking the questions is actually listening to the answers.

Listening doesn’t mean waiting for your turn to talk. Nor does it mean formulating what you’re going to say based on what I’m saying. True, active listeners are very rare. Here’s a question: how many of you know five exceptional listeners? Most of us are lucky if we know one or two.

So, how do you become a master active listener?

The first step is to:


Have you ever been introduced to someone and immediately forgotten their name? We all have, and it’s because we weren’t paying full attention, so the information didn’t stick.

Instead of checking your phone, or your surroundings, or other people walking by – look at the other person while they’re speaking, and make a conscious effort to hear what they’re saying.

The second step to active listening is to:


From what I understand, this is something probation officers do quite effectively (not that I know any personally). They do that to encourage the other side to talk. Basically, you’re saying, “I heard what you said and I believe I understand it.”

Another good way to acknowledge is to paraphrase what they are saying back to them (using “you” statements. “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying…”

The biggest obstacle in becoming a master listener is that most people go to the third step without being asked to do so.

Step Three:


The vast majority of people operate under the mistaken assumption that when someone is talking with us, they actually want to hear what WE have to say. All too often, that’s not the case.

Psychological studies have shown that repetition is the key in changing human behavior, so I have a completely optional homework assignment for you. If you want to become a master listener, then for the next two weeks, for all of your personal communications (business, too – if you’d like), ONLY do steps one and two. Pay full attention to the other person and acknowledge what they’re saying, but give no feedback whatsoever – unless they ask you to.

I was on a flight from Boston to LA some time ago – which is about a 6 ½ hour trip, and I was seated next to this guy who was, shall we say, chatty. I was tired, I wanted to get some sleep, so I pretended to be reading a magazine. But the guy just kept on, so I figured this would be an excellent time for me to practice this particular skill. I put my magazine aside, turned to the man and resolved I would carefully listen to what he said and acknowledge it… but that I wouldn’t give him any actual feedback unless he asked for it.


SIX HOURS LATER, I hadn’t said more than a dozen words. I’m pulling my bag out of the overhead, and the guy stood up, clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Good talk! You’re a smart guy and a great conversationalist!” By only doing steps one and two, I learned all sorts of things about this guy, both professionally and personally, and he thought I was a brilliant conversationalist! And it’s true – good listeners are often perceived as more intelligent. Abraham Lincoln put it this way:

“Better to be silent and thought a fool,

than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Now, there is one caveat to being known as a master listener. What do you think that might be?

Everybody comes to you with their problems.

However, if you think about it, that’s a pretty cool problem to have. If that happens to you, first of all, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve accomplished something that only a tiny fraction of the rest of the world has been able to do.

How about someone who not only wants to tell you their problem(s), but is one of those people who goes on and on? In a case like that, don’t be afraid to do what professional listeners (like therapists) do – give them a finite amount of time. “Sure, come on in… I’ve got a call I’ve got to make in about 10 minutes, but tell me what’s going on…” Set a time frame and honor it. “Tell you what… I’ve got to make that call now. Could you put the rest of this into an email?”

The better we are at communicating, the more likely it is that we will uncover information that might not be obvious at the outset, thus opening the playing field for collaborative solutions by creating truer partnerships with the people with whom we work.