Active listening – The superpower which you should train

Von Stefan Kühn

Anyone who wants to negotiate successfully soon learns that active listening constitutes an incredibly effective and important skill. And, as with other relevant negotiating skills, active listening can also be trained. In this Insight article, you will learn what you should consider if you want to save time and money and achieve a successful negotiation more quickly thanks to active listening.

Active listening first and foremost requires an active mind. Only in this way is it possible for your opposite number to have your undivided attention. Active listening does not actually mean that you are simply listening, but that you are listening with the intention of understanding your opposite number in every aspect. In critical negotiations, the phrase “listening with tactical sensitivity” is often used regarding this. You do not have to agree with your counterparty, but you can understand them unconditionally.

Even if it may sound simple, it takes discipline and practice to wholeheartedly engage with the act of listening and to suppress the desire for personal judgement and interference. We often only listen on a superficial level or just long enough to have grasped the alleged substance of what’s being said. As soon as we think we know where the issue is going, our attention shifts inwards again. Even if we may nod with interest, we are not really hearing the spoken words anymore. We are too heavily preoccupied with matching what we supposedly inwardly heard with our own point of view and ideal.


Bet that you often listen with the wrong objectives?

Self-critically ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How often do I directly or indirectly want to protect my autonomy and independence by blocking out external influences, whether appropriately or inappropriately, and not accepting them?
  2. How often do I want to push through my own values by primarily hearing information which endorses my world view or demonstrates the weaknesses of my opposite number to which I could then respond with a counter-argument?



Your brain must do the hard work

The difficult thing about this is that even though we think we are two steps ahead, precisely this selective way of listening significantly reduces our perception and consequently our authority. Added to this is that this behaviour also makes us appear less sensitive, trustworthy and likeable.

Active listening uses more of our brain and our senses. It is about paying attention to nonverbal cues such as body language, use of language, tone of voice, context, energy and environment. Not until we put all these cues together and put ourselves into the world and perspective of our opposite number do we find out what someone is actually conveying to us between the lines.


Practise active listening

Anyone who is able to combine active listening with professional communication techniques creates an unsurpassable competitive advantage for themselves. INCS provides all the necessary tools for this such as behaviour labels, use of calibrated or unfocused questions, framing, handling your own emotions, etc.


Actively listening – in 10 steps

  1. Show genuine, altruistic interest.
  2. Move into a learning mode when listening.
  3. Ask concerned questions without positioning yourself.
  4. Discuss statements using neutral follow-up or advanced questions.
  5. Do without asking why.
  6. Avoid your own response ideas during which you can no longer listen in an unbiased way.
  7. Frame at eye level.
  8. Relax.
  9. Think long term and focus on empathy and building a relationship.
  10. Forget the short-term, supposed debating success.


Anyone who continually develops and practises his/her negotiating competence will not become the victim of those who do!

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About the author

Stefan Kühn
Negotiation expert

Stefan Kühn is a senior international negotiator, mediator and facilitator and experienced in high-risk and high-stakes negotiations in sensitive markets. He successfully conducts national and international multi-party negotiations and consults businesses, organizations and governmental bodies in demanding and conflicting situations. Stefan Kühn graduated from Harvard University and Oxford Saïd Business School and holds a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and an MBA.