Updated: Dec 10, 2020

In reading The New York Times this weekend, I was struck by a theme running through many of the articles I read. What to do if your friends’ political views differ from your own (here)... Strategies for healing a fractured America (here)… And the communication patterns of trees (by far my favorite article in this selection)...

The common element among these articles was the importance of listening. Listening to your friends’ political views without judgment in order to find empathy and build trust in your relationships. Listening to the people you disagree with in order for you to grow, and help us all find healing at the close of this tumultuous year. Listening to the world around you, if you are a tree, in order to establish your own community and thrive.

But listening to other people (let alone trees) can be a real challenge. Perhaps especially so when you don’t want to hear what they have to say. Whether that’s around the holiday dinner table (via Zoom, as the case may be) or in a mediation (also on Zoom), listening can be hard when the conversation is politically charged or otherwise volatile.

What often happens in negotiations, arguments, or other charged discussions, is that people shut their ability to listen down. Whether consciously or unconsciously, when the pressure increases, listening decreases. Instead, people retreat into themselves - planning clever retorts, plotting revenge, stewing in anger, or spiraling down an anxiety-induced abyss.

While these are of course normal human reactions, is this productive? Even healthy for us?

Generally, no. When you shut down, and there is a problem to be solved, you put yourself at a disadvantage and you jeopardize the possibilities for finding amicable solutions.

Refusing to listen to what you do not want to hear is a bad habit to dispense with right now. Here are suggestions for doing just that…

We know what empathy is… the ability to understand where someone else is coming from and to make the effort to appreciate what they are feeling. Empathetic listening is paying attention to what someone else is saying to you in order to establish a connection with them and gain a better understanding of their emotions in that conversation.

In negotiation, this can be an effective tool for not only building a connection with the person sitting across the proverbial negotiation table (whether a real table or a Zoom one). This in turn, helps to create an environment that is more conducive to open dialogues. When you demonstrate to others that you are interested in their perspective, and respect where they are coming from, you are more likely to have a discussion that is built on trust. Trust allows for honesty and it gives people space to let out the emotions they may otherwise have bottled up.

Empathetic listening is conveyed through non-verbal communication techniques. This means stopping whatever else you might have been doing - and focusing exclusively on the person talking to you. Here are some ways to practice empathetic listening:

  • When you are practicing empathic listening, try to refrain from talking as much as possible. This is not the time to ask questions, paraphrase what they are saying, or provide your insights. Even if you feel uncomfortable, don’t change the subject, interrupt, or dismiss someone’s feelings. For the most part, just be quiet and stay focused on that person.

  • Demonstrate your attentiveness by focusing on the person speaking. Maintain eye contact as much as possible. Nodding your head, mirroring the other person’s facial expressions, making sure your body language shows that you are open to hearing what they have to say.

  • After you have demonstrated that you are paying attention, it may help to give the other person some affirmations, or encouragement to keep the conversation going. This should be limited on your part.

Thank you for sharing this with me.
Can you tell me more about that?
I understand.

Know that you’ll have space to talk and be patient. Developing this rapport will also help to set an example for the way you'd like to be treated, for the space you would also like to be afforded when it is your turn to share.

If listening with empathy during challenging conversations sounds trying, the best place to start is with people you trust - your friends, your family. Choose one technique and commit to trying out for a day and see what happens. Do you notice any difference in the way you interact with the people you care about when you put your phone down and maintain eye contact with them when they speak to you?

Instead of approaching challenging conversations or negotiations from a place of defensiveness, fear, or even combat – take the initiative to build a team mentality…. Perhaps seeing a conversation as a shared experience, as opposed to a two-sided event.

Other people are going to continue to make decisions and say things that are very plainly outside of our control. Sure, we can work to influence people and to model better behavior. But when it comes to placing judgment on them, it is much more productive to try to cultivate a little empathy. You, the conversation, and the relationship as a whole, will be better served if you are able to muster up some healthy optimism and proceed with an open mind.

Interested in learning more?

Compass is an innovative membership community focused on exploring mindfulness in negotiation and conflict resolution. We take a different approach to negotiation. It’s not an art, reserved for the special few. We’re here to show you all you can accomplish when you participate in conversations and make decisions with clarity and calm.

In December, we are focused on listening as an important negotiation skill and practice in mindfulness.

Join this month and take advantage of our holiday sale - 30% off all annual subscriptions. Use code CYBER30.

How Positivity, Mindfulness, Decision Making, and Problem Solving can Guide You at the Negotiation Table

The way we approach decisions and address problems is similar to a journey. In both situations, there are many paths to choose. And the choices you make along the way impact your experience - whether the path before you is rough or smooth, filled with peaks and valleys or a straight shot. . .

In making the choices that will create your best path forward, you often need a guidepost to make sure you are headed in the right direction and to keep you on that path. A compass.

We know that a compass is something you bring with you on a journey to make sure you're headed in the right direction (even if it's an app on your phone at this point...). For some of us, using a compass is something we were taught as kids. For some of us, it’s intuitive... You pick it up and it’s easy for you to discern how a compass works. And some of us need a bit of explanation as to what this compass thing is and how to use it -- before we trust it to keep us on path.

It’s the same for our journey towards better, more collaborative and rewarding negotiation experiences. Compass by Take Charge Negotiations is your guidepost towards better negotiation experiences and outcomes.

Very few people learn to negotiate with ease after reading a book. Or taking a class. It's a process. It takes time and a commitment to stepping outside your comfort zone.

We developed Compass as a membership community that will serve as a consistent source of new and innovative negotiation knowledge, tools, encouragement, and inspiration.

However, we’re not heading north, south, east, or west with our Compass. Our Compass points us towards mindfulness, positivity, problem solving, and decision making in the context of negotiation. These quadrants are the pillars of our Compass experience. All of our work in re-learning negotiation theory and practice will relate back to one or more of these pillars:


Positivity is a crucial component of Compass as it helps us to deconstruct the negativity often associated with negotiation. As we progress through this part of the experience, we will explore topics and tools you can use in your negotiations to keep those conversations clear of negativity.


The practice of mindfulness, when incorporated into your approach to negotiation, is transformative. Learning to remain aware of your thoughts and emotions and to proceed with out judgment in conversations that are trying is a true gift to yourself. Mindfulness in negotiation is empowering, it keeps us focused on the situation at hand, allowing us space to delve into the conversation without the weight of anger, judgment, fear, or other low vibration emotions.

Decision Making

Decision making is the ability to make conscious choices, based on thoughtful planning, and grounded in reality. Taking a position that you are openly confident in requires planning, practice, and access to information that will support you. When our Compass is pointed towards this pillar, we will focus our learning on how to position ourselves for making decisions from a place of knowledge, learning to listen to and trust our instincts, and to explore this process with the other people who negotiate with us.

Problem Solving

Last but not least, when our Compass is pointed towards problem solving, we will focus on how to define the issue before us in an open-minded and synergistic way. This helps to put us in a better position for evaluating our options for resolving the problem and then devising a path towards making that a reality.

On a month to month basis, Compass shifts focus from one quadrant to the next. In each month, we’ll take one negotiation tool - which will primarily reside in one of these quadrants - and dissect and analyze it so you can use that tool when you need it.

Very few people learn to negotiate with ease after reading a book. Or taking a class. It's a process. It takes time and a commitment to stepping outside your comfort zone.

Our goal for Compass is to facilitate an ongoing dialogue and learning experience for our Members. For as long as you need us - whether that's a few months or a few years.

This is not another stodgy lecture on what you have been doing wrong, and told to you by someone you can't possibly relate to. Compass is a practical, supportive, and respectful community. We'd love for you to join us.

Click here to learn more and to become a part of our growing community.

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