We think of vision being 20/20, but what about listening? In this year of 2020, do you have 20/20 listening skills?

I don’t. My listening is flawed, and not just because of the tinnitus. Almost every time I listen back to a recorded interview that I’ve done for work, I hear my own voice and think, “Man, just shut up and listen! Why am I talking so much?”

I generally feel like I’m being a good listener, but the recording doesn’t lie. Listening back to interviews, I have moments where I recognize, “Oh, I was waiting for them to finish so I could ask the next question.” Sometimes if I don’t ask a question quickly, I’ll lose my train of thought and forget the next question. So, I’ll occasionally force the question in before I should. This cuts off the other person’s train of thought.

If you aren’t a reporter, it’s doubtful that you record many of your own conversations and assess how you’re doing as a listener.

But who’s listening these days, right? It feels like the culture is full of speakers and no listeners, doesn’t it?

I think this is a major ingredient in today’s cultural madness. It’s so easy to feel like no one hears you and no one cares. How often do you speak and then realize that it doesn’t seem like the person you were talking to heard what you said? How much of that can you take before you feel really irritated with that person?

This irritation is everywhere on the Internet, isn’t it? Are people really listening online? Yeah, considerate people and good listeners are there, too, but they seem to be vastly outnumbered online by those wishing to comment hunt with kill shots. But this is just a game of verbal assault, not persuasion.

I recently watched some talks by former Federal Bureau of Investigation kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss on negotiating. And he certainly sees listening as the primary skill of persuasion.

Voss emphasizes how persuasion often has far less to do with what is said than how attuned the negotiator is to the other person’s emotional truth. And in a one-on-one interaction, you can’t be in tune with another person unless you know how to listen to them. This seems straight pointless to point out, right? Of course, we can all listen, right? The answer is yeah we can, but we often don’t. We generally have our own emotions that are more important to us than the other person’s. So our listening is clouded by all of our own self-interested considerations. But this is a handicap in any attempt to really be persuasive, such as in a hostage situation. You have to put your own emotion on hold and really look hard at the other person and what they’re saying and thinking. Voss spoke of “mirroring,” which involves a lot of repeating back what someone is saying with some inflection of curiosity. He joked that mirroring can make people a hit at parties, since it’s a commitment to genuine interest in others without trying to force opinions or personal information on them.

Obviously, we are immersed in attempted persuasion all the time. And we’re very cynical about such efforts, which are often so poorly done. That’s part of why TV ads wear on me. Think of all the bliss the pharmaceutical ads promise. It feels so false. Other forms of persuasion are simply brute force through intimidation, violence or bullying. That might work sometimes for some people. But it makes a person pretty hard to endure and turns them into someone to be avoided.

Real persuasion typically involves something besides force. For instance, I’ve never been a good negotiator on price. So I enjoyed hearing Voss talk about price negotiations and his “65 rule.” I don’t know if I’ll try this strategy, but it entertained me to hear him talk about it. Maybe I’ll take this to a flea market one day.

It’s the idea that if you are a purchaser, then figure out what price you are actually willing to pay before any discussions, then offer 65 percent of that. So, if an item is $130, but the max you would spend is $100, then offer $65. But before you offer a price, you must hem and haw a lot first about how the price in your head is ridiculous. You say such things as “I don’t want to offend you.” “You’ll be mad.” “I should just probably go.” If you don’t seem believable, then you’re just going to offend the seller for real. But if you really seem genuine, then they will at least be emotionally braced for a really bad price. Then, if they’re still engaged in the discussion, gradually give them some small wins in decreasing increments. It means they have some positive emotions happening with you, which makes them more inclined to give in on price. Voss said move up to $85, then perhaps $95, while obviously talking about the pinch it will bring to pay any of those prices. Then make the final increase a small, odd number, like $97, as if you’re ringing out everything you had in you to make this budge. For sure, this may fail spectacularly as a strategy. It probably would for me. I just like thinking of the psychology behind such strategies. Perhaps this is just a basic yard sale or flea market tactic for some of you. But I’ve never really thought much like this in terms of a buying strategy that takes into account the other person’s emotions.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, then thank you for listening to my one-sided ramble for the week.

Hopefully, we can all listen a little better in 2020. The other option is putting our hands over our ears and humming. And sometimes that sounds like a pretty nice option these days, too, doesn’t it?

I said, that sounds like a pretty nice option these days!

Shoot, no one's even listening.

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at zach@mainstreetnews.com.

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