I was recently in a negotiation where the issues were quite controversial and the conversation quickly became emotionally charged. Of course, it didn’t take long at this point for the various stakeholders to dig-in and vigorously defend their positions… needless to say that this wasn’t very conducive to negotiating an outcome.
However, it was amazing how quickly the tension lessened once the focus was shifted from me to them. I asked some good questions to understand their positions and perspectives, then summarised my understanding of how the different stakeholders felt.
It wasn’t enough to flippantly claim to understand. I worked hard in a non-confrontational way to deeply comprehend why their positions had been taken and what each of the various stakeholders were really trying to protect/achieve. Summarising my understanding of their positions back to them helped them to feel like they could drop their guard.
Demonstrating that I understood helped to build trust.
Once the emotions were back in check, it was of course much easier to find the common ground upon which we could start to build a solution.
This is a pattern I have found to be true every time I have been presented with a difference of opinion/position/concern.
I hope that active listening and demonstrating that you understand helps to break down barriers in your negotiations!