Negotiation Tip: Echoing Your Way to a Good Deal

Baseball is a game of inches, or so the saying goes. Whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, whether a hit is fair or foul, whether a runner is safe or out, is determined at the margins…by a matter of inches. In negotiation, the same is often rings true. The difference between reaching an agreement versus being stuck at an impasse can often hinge on a negotiator’s ability to master skills that, on the surface, seem rather simple and minor. The ability to listen well is one of these skills.

Everyone knows that listening well is an important skill for any communicator. But the skill is not merely the ability to hear what one’s counterpart is saying; rather, it is the ability to communicate that one is listening and accurately processing what is being said.


One technique that can often make the crucial difference in a tense negotiation is summarizing what one’s counterpart has said. For example, imagine that you are negotiating with a colleague about how to spend this year’s advertising budget. Your colleague insists that direct mailings are the best investment. Conversely, you believe that internet advertising will reach a larger share of your target audience. This conversation can quickly escalate into an argument in which each side advocates their perspective and provides supporting evidence.

To avoid a contentious battle of wills, it probably would be advantageous for you to say to your colleague, “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying. You feel that direct mailing is the best bet both because it is much cheaper than internet advertising and because it is a proven technique that has worked for us in the past. And, you don’t want to jeopardize a proven method for one that may not work at all. Is that right?”

Confirm Your Understanding

By interrupting the conversation with a confirming recap of your understanding, you accomplish two things. First, you ensure that you understand your colleague’s point of view. If you were to discover at this point that you had misread their perspective, you are now poised for a fruitful discussion and some creative compromises. Second, you communicate to your colleague that you are digesting and considering her ideas. This, in turn, encourages her to do the same. You summarizing your understanding of the other person’s ideas and perspectives shifts the argument dynamic to a dynamic of constructive communication and mutual understanding.

Needless to say, this is a rather simple technique that anyone can learn. But those that master it can dramatically improve their ability to negotiate agreements that satisfy all of their (as well as their counterpart’s) goals and objectives.