In negotiations, it’s critical to try and discover the hidden agendas that are motivating the other side. This means looking more closely at what they are not saying because this can give us insight into what’s really driving them. In this article we share our tips on how to watch and listen more effectively during negotiations so you can uncover the hidden meanings behind what’s being said. We also share some insights from observing the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg.
A presidential tête-à-têteWhen Russian President Putin and US President Trump met at the G20 summit, it came after several unsuccessful phone conversations. While both Putin and Trump stated they were ‘delighted’ to meet personally, and that it was ‘an honour’ to meet, we wondered if something else was going on. What can we learn from watching? We paid attention to Putin and Trump’s togetherness by watching their handshakes, eye gaze and body movements while the other spoke. In particular, we observed what they did during those awkward pauses in between speaking. For example, Trump used handshakes to avoid tricky situations and filled silences with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. When Putin spoke, Trump’s eyes darted back and forth as if he was unsure where to concentrate his gaze. At their second meeting, we could see Putin’s experience come to the fore. He took advantage of Trump’s uncertainty and seemed to take control of the situation. Sitting relaxed in his chair, he created silences for Trump to stumble over. At one point, he looked at the floor to conceal a smirk at Trump’s discomfort. What can we learn from listening? At the time of their meeting, Putin and Trump were engaged in a very public power struggle. With this in mind, we analysed some of Putin and Trump’s verbal responses to try and detect what was really being said. For example:
- When Trump said he looked forward to: ‘very, very good talks’, was he pointing out that: ‘We have been disagreeing for some time now’?
- When Putin said: ‘I hope, as you have said, that our meetings provide positive results’, was it really an attempt to assert his position? Perhaps he really meant: ‘It is right that I should be in charge of these positive results for Russia’?
Tips on understanding what is not being saidIn your own negotiations, at work and at home, how keenly are you watching and listening to detect and take into account the real (and often hidden) meanings behind what is being said?
- Closely observe body language, including facial expression, eye contact, gestures and body shifts. Keep a lookout for changes in a person’s usual patterns.
- Use a disciplined questioning technique and do not interrupt the other party as they answer. Staying silent is often enlightening.
- Listen carefully to ensure you take in all that is being said by the other party. This includes ‘what’ they are saying and ‘how’ they are saying it. It includes their tonal shifts, pauses, coughs, and the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’.
- Monitor team members for incongruent signals. As you watch and listen, ask yourself:
- What is it that they really want but are not saying?
- Why do they want that? (You’ll need to think deeper here.)
- What is the payback for them? (Think deeper still!)