Learning from expert negotiators

I listened to a fascinating episode of BBC Woman’s Hour over the weekend about negotiation (from 1st Jan – I’d recommend listening, available here –  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001ts51). It shared the perspective and advice from expert negotiators in crisis and hostages, international conflicts, UN COP and global commitments as well as the views on family negotiations from a clinical psychologist.

Whilst my role as an insight professional doesn’t encounter these kinds of negotiation, it struck me that there were 3 valuable and inter-related reminders for all of us in what they said of the way we approach how we talk to people and analyse what they’ve said to allow us to get to powerful and robust insights:

  1.  The need to differentiate between hearing and listening

We talk about ‘listening’ but it is all too easy to fall into the trap of only hearing what we want to hear and not really listening to what someone is communicating. It’s not about soundbites, it’s about noticing the context, the undercurrent and the emotions as well as reactions that allows us to unpick both the meaning and the relevance. 

  • The ability to put oneself in someone’s shoes

Closely linked to listening is our ability to empathise. It’s easy to approach a project so focused on a particular agenda or specific objective that we fail to tune into what people are really feeling. By keeping the focus narrowly on our own goals, we risk missing some key insight about a target audience that gives important learning on how an idea may work.

  • Identification of the narrative

Objectively, a solution or recommendation may feel obvious, but it’s important to remember that everyone has their own narrative about a situation. This may be influenced by historical or cultural context, or perhaps by emotions, but unless we understand what meaning different people are attributing to something, we risk recommendations that miss the mark because they don’t highlight the how as well as the what.

These are all things great insight experts do on every project, but it’s sometimes helpful to have a little prompt, particularly at the start of the year, to ensure we do our best work.