In order to negotiate better, resolve disputes, and overcome conflicts it is necessary to apply the collaboration effect based on neuroscience. The collaboration effect involves connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously in order to build bridges and negotiate closure. Last week’s blog addressed being authentic and generating connecting relationships. This week’s blog addresses listening actively. Initiating any argument by taking an attitude that you are there to help, to listen, and to work towards a solution rather seeing the other party as an adversary makes a big difference according Daniel Shapiro, an expert in negotiations at Harvard.  It is us versus the problem instead of us versus them. So, let’s look at listening actively.

Listening actively

Listening actively means that you have an attitude to really listen. All too often in a dispute when the party is talking our defenses prevent us from listening and instead an initial primal response to an attack is to attack back. That is, while the other person is talking you are thinking about how to respond. Knowing this it takes a conscious act on your part to focus on listening actively. That means that you are making mental notes on what is being said. You are preparing to tell the other party what you have just heard them say in neutral terms. How can you do that?

 It is being suggested here that you the acronym PASSED which stands for:

Paraphrase: Using different words than the other party to clarify what the other party just stated. When you paraphrase you may vary sentence structure, replace words, reorder information, break up long sentences into shorter sentences, and offer concepts more concretely. Say what you heard in your own words.

Ask open ended questions: Do not offer “yes” - “no” questions. Rather ask questions that require the other party to expand or explain something to you. You can use the phrase "tell me more” about something just offered to you to help the other party expand on their commentary.

Summarize: Summarizing takes place when a brief statement is offered of the main points of something just stated. Here the key is to identify the main points succinctly.

Suspend Judgment: Suspending judgment means that you will keep an open mind. You will not react negatively to what was just offered. You won’t decide until you know more. This is hard and it takes practice.

Empathize: Empathizing takes place when you demonstrate to the other person that you understand their feelings. You put yourself in their shoes so to speak. You state how you think they feel. They will let you know if you have grasped the emotion or not.

Do not offer advice: Your first inclination may be to tell the other party what to do. When you are listening, you are not offering advice. You are demonstrating to the other party that you hear them and understand what they are saying in a neutral and impartial manner.

The two hardest elements are suspending judgment and not offering advice. Your natural reaction is to judge defensively and to offer advice to tell the other person what they should do. This takes patience, persistence, and practice. Start out with small applications instead of trying this with a very difficult issue. You will become better with practice.

A real world personal example

As a front line manager early in my career I had been managing a group of 8 males and 1 female for a year. I was transferred to another group with 6 females and 1 male. After about two weeks I felt something was wrong, but I could not figure it out. I reached out to one of my employees. She suggested that there are times when she and others entered my office that they simply wanted me to listen. I could not figure this out, so I brought it up in a group meeting. I think the group felt sorry for me in all honesty, so they came up with a code word. The code word was “blue.”  If they knocked on my open door and said “blue” that meant I was to listen.

When someone came to my door and said “blue” I pushed away from my keyboard while sitting on my chair with rollers, picked up a pad of paper and pen, and rolled to a small round table with two chairs. The other party sat in one of the chairs. The other party shared their concerns, and I applied PASSED. I might ask open ended questions and point them in a given direction with my questions, but I did not offer advice. I found that 9 times out of 10 they did not ask for my advice. They wanted to be heard, come up with their own solution, and they felt really good about it. They implemented their solution and began to come to my office less. This actually saved me time. They felt much better too.

Wow! This was very cool. I came home and told my wife about this eureka moment. My wife listened to my story and looked me right in the eyes and said, “you can do this at home too.” That was it for me. This was my aha moment. This helped me in my entire career including all the way to executive level and in my home life too.

Two real world examples in application

I am involved in conflict resolution, dispute resolution, negotiations, and mediations having conducted over 2,500 of these in my career. Here are some short summaries of conflicts where listening actively has made huge differences.

This is a summary blog from a pod cast with Melissa Gragg where I explained how this worked with an estate tax case with the IRS. The key was asking open ended questions, addressing interests, and then educating the other party to help the IRS make a decision that made more sense.

As a mediator I am often called into very difficult situations. By listening actively to both sides, building trust, and helping the parties to de-escalate the situation by listening actively it is possible to help the parties to work together to resolve issues that each side can live with going forward. By taking the time to build an authentic connecting relationship, and listening actively to the parties, it is possible for the parties to creatively find solutions that work for them.

Next step

Listening actively is the second of three legs of the stool to conflict resolution and negotiating closure. Next week the topic will be educating judiciously. I welcome your comments.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]