So, you think you’re a good listener… do you do these four things?

A significant predictor as to the success of mediation or other forms of settlement negotiations is the extent to which both parties listen to each other and understand each other’s needs and interests.

Many of us think we are good listeners but, in reality, our self-assessment is unlikely to be accurate. An assessment by Jack Zenger of approximately 3,500 managers revealed that great listeners:

  1. Don’t just sit silently while the other person is speaking – they will ask questions to get further information, will gently challenge assumptions that the speaker is making and help the speak obtain insight into their own story.
  2. Include interactions that build the speaker’s self-esteem – the speaker feels supported and confident and a safe environment is created in which issues and differences can be discussed openly.
  3. Are cooperative in the dialogue – a great listener will not only be listening for errors in reasoning or logic or being silent to prepare a response, a great listener does not become defensive but rather truly tries to understand that argument, not win it.
  4. Tend to make suggestions – however, the way those suggestions are made, is not as the only answer, but rather they are delivered in a way that leaves it open to the speaker to consider as an alternative.

With these traits in mind Zenger makes the following suggestions for implementing good listening skills:

  1. Create a safe environment in which difficult, complex or emotional issues can be discussed – don’t try to engage another party in delicate settlement discussions outside the court room after they have been taken through the coals by the Judge.
  2. Get rid of all distractions, such as your phone or laptop, so you can really focus on the speaker – nothing turns someone off having a discussion, in which they are being asked to make a concession, if they are being sent an indirect message that whatever on your phone or laptop is more important than them.
  3. Make sure you understand what the other person is really saying – ask questions, clarify, use analogies – just make sure that the other person knows that they have been heard.
  4. Listen with your eyes and your ears – pay attention to the speaker’s body language, what are the non-verbal cues telling you about the speaker?
  5. Identify and acknowledge the speaker’s emotions and feelings – acknowledging someone’s feelings and emotions in a non-judgmental way does not mean that you are making any concessions.
  6. Ask questions – asking questions to understand the assumptions that people are making can lead them to seek the issue in a new light.

I have found these tips markedly increase the prospects of successful conversations, whether in the context of a mediation or otherwise. I implement each of these suggestions when I am speaking with parties as a mediator, and I particularly encourage mediation participants to really listen to each other during the course of a mediation.


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