One of the biggest mistakes people make in Negotiations is to lack due attentiveness throughout the procedure. Attentiveness means having a higher level of awareness of what is being said and, almost more importantly, what is not being said. I have read lots of articles and comments recently on this topic urging people to “listen actively” and be “fully involved” in the conversation but it would seem that practical advice on actually HOW to do this is a bit thin on the ground.
So, I thought I would break down a few of the contributing factors for lack of attention and give some advice on how to combat these distractions in negotiations and other critical situations.
Firstly, some specific barriers to watch out for.
- Head Chatter – we all have one voice that we can’t help but hear, the one inside our own heads. Our own thoughts and feelings can be very distracting and prevent us from truly being attentive to what else is being said.
Whether you are mentally compiling a shopping list or fixated upon the toothpaste mark on your colleagues tie across the table, the head chatter is stopping you from focusing sufficiently on what is being said. There is a skill in being able to “tune out the chatter” and to be able to spot it intruding in someone else. The fixed stare and generally lack of animation is a good starting point to look out for.
- Physical distractions –Sherlock Holmes commented that he never ate whilst deliberating a case, as digestion slowed his thinking, and whilst this is an extreme position, there is logic in not trying to focus on something important whilst digesting a big meal. I always eat lightly but more often when I am working a big negotiation or case.
- Similarly, if you are tired, ill or cold, or if the room is uncomfortable or even too comfortable, alcohol, and/or a good lunch are all ways to reduce full attentiveness.
For optimal negotiation attentiveness it’s a good idea to have a comfortable but not cozy room. Too warm and it gets sleepy, too cold and no one can focus. Keep snacks and drinks light and offer both caffeinated and de-caffeinated coffee as well as other drinks.
- Emotional Hijacking – The emotional part of our brain works quickly and is very powerful, it can totally “hijack” a negotiation if engaged. It can easily override our more logical mind and can therefore be a big distraction to effective negotiations.
Whether it be a strong reaction to another person, positive or negative, or a choice of topic, or even a loaded word (eg: murder, bonus) when the emotional brain kicks in, it is extremely difficult to override it.
In some ways we are a slave to our affective selves as, our emotional reactions, linked to our survival, wont be easily mastered or squashed, but we can prepare a couple of coping strategies to help us when emotions take control.
If there is likely to be an element in the negotiation that will make you grumpy, upset or impatient then plan key responses and rehearse them with a colleague PRIOR to the negotiation. Then, although you still may feel the emotional reaction you are more likely to recognize it and deal with it effectively.
Secondly, always have a co-pilot in emotionally charged discussions. You can tag-team the big issues and take breaks when necessary to gather yourself together and lower the emotional temperature.
Lastly, if possible face the emotional trigger and deal with it. Strong negative reactions cannot be helped at times but it is important to get a handle on what exactly you are reacting to and why it is so charged for you, as in a business context emotional reactions can cloud your judgment to an unacceptable degree and derail the entire discussion.
Attentiveness is not just about physical and mental alertness it is also about learning to observe, (to coin another Sherlock-ism!) It is often difficult to really listen properly and actively, but it is absolutely vital to really understand the other sides views and strategy, let alone keep an eye out for tactics and ploys along the way.