Becoming a better bargainer means being a better listener. We negotiate every day. Some of these negotiations are at work, where we try to plan future actions or resolve conflicts over what we have already done. Some are with friends and family as we try to work out solutions to life’s everyday problems. Whenever we find ourselves in conflict we want the best resolution possible. To do this involves listening to others.
One way to listen more effectively is known as “deepening conversation.” A recent article in the journal Conflict Resolution Quarterly discusses how deepening conversations are used by mediators. Although the authors write about mediation, the skill of deepening conversation can be used by all negotiators.
Skills Needed for Deep Conversations
A deepening conversation is about learning “what matters to us, why it matters, and how what matters is being threatened” (page 153). The reason we can call this a deepening conversation is because we are trying to get to the bottom of things; to get to the heart of the matter.
The authors discuss the insights of Bernard Lonergan who outlined the following skills:
- Attend to experience,
- Ask questions about experience to receive insight,
- Follow up to determine whether the insights are correct, and
- Take action.
When we “attend to experience” what we are doing is paying very close attention to the experience of others. We try to notice what is going on and what others are feeling and remembering. We are empathetic.
When we seek insight we are trying to track down the basis for others’ perceptions about the problem. As we do this, we will undoubtedly learn about our own perceptions.
After we have gained insight, we need to seek feedback and verification. Is this insight correct? To often we jump to judgment when we really need to check whether or not we are right. If we find we are wrong, we need to begin again.
Only after we have gained insight and checked our judgment are we ready to take action. Even then, we are open to the possibility that there is more to learn.
The Five Steps
The authors conclude by describing five steps (page 159). These five steps are good guides for all negotiators:
- Attend to process (be sure the process is clear and fair),
- Broaden understanding (encourage each party to talk about their experiences and expectations),
- Deepen insights (try to learn what is threatening to other parties),
- Explore possibilities, and
- Take action.