Communicating effectively with others is essential to survive in today’s fast-paced economy. Without the ability to communicate the products, services, or value you and your organization have to offer colleagues and clients alike, your potential for success is severely limited. Fortunately, with the wide variety of communication channels available in the digital age – including telephone, email, chat, video conferencing, and more – it is easier than ever to ensure you get your message across.

However, successful negotiations are not one-sided; in addition to effectively transmitting your own message, you must also hear and understand that offered by others. Only then can you determine commonalities, identify roadblocks, mitigate conflicts, and develop relationships based on mutual effort. Thus, building upon your ability to listen is one of the most important negotiation skills you can learn.

These negotiation listening skills can help you ensure you are listening effectively during the negotiation process to achieve the best chances at success.

Skill #1: Understand the Importance of Staying Engaged Through Active Listening

The human brain is like a remarkable machine, capable of maximum processing speeds of up to 60 bits per second – impressive for a completely organic system of neurons and synapses. When you consider the fact that average human conversational speech includes 4-5 syllables per second, this processing rate sounds reasonable. Of course, the brain is not actually a machine, and processing can be affected by outside distractions or even simple inattentiveness. To maximize your ability to not only understand what the other party is saying but effectively respond to it, it’s critical to make a concerted effort to stay engaged.

Active listening, a technique employed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and many other professionals, is a way of remaining engaged by making a conscious effort to understand what the other individual is saying. Active listening techniques involve both physical and verbal cues to signify that you are listening and ensure understanding. Aside from actively engaging your brain in the listening process, boosting your retention, you are also reassuring the other person that you value what they are saying and are making an effort to understand. Each of the other skills highlighted here will help you ensure you are participating in active listening.

Skill #2: Employ Nonverbal Cues

One of the easiest ways you can demonstrate that you are actively listening during the negotiation process is by employing nonverbal cues. Tactics such as maintaining eye contact and leaning forward towards the other speaker show that you are prepared to continue listening. Meanwhile, additional nonverbal cues like nodding and smiling can not only communicate understanding to the speaker but help keep your own thoughts positive and focused.

Skill #3: Refrain From Interrupting

Refraining from interrupting is a more critical active listening tactic than you might think. Not only does it communicate to the speaker that you believe what you have to say is more important than the negotiations at hand, but it also implies that you are rude and lack basic negotiating and business skills. If you haven’t already offended the other speaker by the time they reach the end of their comment, you’re also diverting your brain’s processing power away from understanding their offer and towards formulating your next comment.

Skill #4: Ask Questions to Ensure Understanding

While it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, asking the right questions is an essential active listening tactic. Perhaps most importantly, asking succinct, direct questions during the negotiations process helps you to ensure you’ve developed an accurate understanding of what was said. In addition, asking questions helps alert the other party that you not only understand but value what they are saying enough to take steps to do so.

Skill #5: Paraphrase What Was Said

Once you’ve listened to all the other negotiators present have to say, another way to ensure you’ve grasped their most important points is to briefly and uniquely summarize what you’ve heard. Prefacing your summary with phrases like “From my understanding, you assert that-” helps you to take ownership of your listening. Overall, paraphrasing gives the other negotiator an opportunity to correct any remaining misconceptions.

Skill #6: Ask for Clarification

If the other negotiator indicates that you’ve misunderstood the points included in your summary, give them an opportunity to correct errors themselves. If this does not occur, wait for a pause in the negotiation to ask further questions for clarification. Again, interrupting does not show that you value the opinions and offers of the other party; ensuring that you understand, however, does.

Skill #7: Agree or Acknowledge as Much as Possible

Even if you fundamentally disagree with the points presented during the negotiations process, it is essential to acknowledge their value. Studies show that simple acknowledgment can boost productivity and satisfaction with the process at hand – and at bare minimum, you want your fellow negotiators to feel satisfied with the negotiations process. Agree with statements like shared goals, mutual benefits, and satisfactory price points; if none are present, find more surface-level topics you can agree on to promote continued agreement and a pleasant negotiations environment.

Skill #8: Keep an Open Mind

One of the most essential characteristics of active listening during negotiations is maintaining an open mind throughout the process. Reserving judgment until you’ve developed a thorough understanding of the other negotiator’s position will help you engage in the active listening tips listed above. Better yet, you’ll find yourself more able to respond, discuss, or make an informed counteroffer.