We usually hear what we want to hear, what we have been trained to hear, and nothing else. We focus on certain words or behaviors and ignore others.
When we listen, we can be influenced by our own unique set of filters and triggers. Filters remove unpleasant or contentious content. Triggers precipitate actions, including behaviors—often unwanted ones.
In short, filters and triggers are pieces of baggage we all bring to the negotiating table. One of our tasks as transformative negotiators, then, is to identify that baggage and prevent it from blocking our ability to listen. We do this, in part, by naming it.
Let’s consider Mario’s triggers and filters. When Mario hears other people raise their voice, he tunes them out because yelling was how his father showed displeasure with Mario’s behavior when he was young. Thus, a raised voice is a trigger for Mario that causes him not to hear subsequent communications. Mario also has a filter, based on his past experience, that people who raise their voice do so only to criticize him, not to emphatically make a point. In this case, both filter and trigger cause him to tune out the speaker.
When Mario hears a raised voice, it may not matter that you’re using words of praise to motivate him to apply to college. His filter may not allow him to take that message in.
To be a transformative negotiator, you need to be alert to these triggers and filters, to recognize them when they appear, and to work around them to come to a mutually acceptable result. This might mean using a softer tone with Mario. (If their triggers and filters are deeply rooted, it may take you many attempts before they begin to mentally and emotionally rewire. That’s okay. Be patient and persevere.)
Active listening requires not immediately judging the content you hear. That’s because the instant a judgment comes up, it blocks your listening. If you quickly articulate that judgment, it can also shut down your negotiation partner. So suspend your judgment and keep your mouth closed, at least for the moment.
Active listening also includes focusing not only on the words, but on the feelings and emotions behind the words as well.
Excerpt from The Transformative Negotiator: Changing How We Come to Agreement from the Inside Out. By Michèle Huff, J.D. UNHOOKED BOOKS.