‘Without Communication there is no negotiation’ (Fisher, Ury and Patton:1981). Our ability to negotiate effectively depends upon the level of our communication (interpersonal) skills.

Speak to be understood – unfortunately, people often speak to be heard and/or impress rather than to be understood. At times the emphasis on getting the message across or playing to the gallery, often overrides the importance of seeking ‘feedback’ to ensure the message is understood and true meaning can be negotiated. This tends to follow a one-way, linear approach to communication and negotiations, with its intent on transmitting rather than sharing information.

In contrast, negotiators who seek to be effective in mutual gains negotiations, place a stronger emphasis on two-way, circular communication processes that provide feedback mechanisms to assist tin clarifying and negotiating meaning between parties involved.  A stronger emphasis is placed upon active listening rather then speaking to the other party, so that the negotiator can understand the other party (their underlying concerns, reasoning ability, alternatives, negotiation style etc)  and respond with the appropriate strategy.   Through listening more, the negotiator demonstrates the effective skill for obtaining more intelligence (power of knowledge), and the affective skill to reduce defensiveness (the other side feels heard, appreciated and understood), engage and build rapport with the other party in problem solving (power of relationship).   Crisis or hostage negotiators emphasise the importance of this approach to communication through their motto ‘Talk to Me’, where they focus on talking less and listening more. 

To frame and help us understand the differences in communication styles and their impact upon negotiation, an exploration of the different models of communication, from Shannon and Weavers Transmission Model, to Schramm’s Circular theory of Communication and Berlo’s Source, Message, Channel Receiver (SCRM) model is warranted.

Shannon and Weavers transmission model of communication (See figure 1) demonstrates a focused informational ‘sender-receiver’ linear system of communication between parties. This model recognises the concept and impact that ‘Noise’ has upon the transmission of our messages between one another – this one way informational sharing approach draws attention to the interference of communication or negotiation noise in reaching a common understanding – in doing so it also demonstrates a shortfall in this mode of communication and closer scrutiny of the channel we adopt to convey our messages. You may draw the link between this style of communicating and the ‘take it or leave it’ approach to the traditional distributional or competitive ‘sum/lose’ bargaining.

Berlo’s model of communication (figure 4) takes us one step further with its focus upon the impact that the parties communication skills, attitudes, knowledge, and social and cultural systems have upon communication and negotiation. The model complements Schramm’s model of communication by highlighting the importance of adjusting our communication approach to account for diversity/differences in personal styles, knowledge, skills and cultural values.


Whether one way transmission or circular approaches to communication are used, both are subject to the interference of communication ‘noise’. Fortunately, circular approaches allow us to minimise noise and this highlights the shortfall of one way communication styles.

Seek to eliminate ‘communication noise’ in your negotiations – ‘noise’ may be physical, psychological or semantic – it has the propensity to distort the intended messages we send and as a result the likely impact of our words when received is often not as intended.

Physical noise interferes with the actual transmission of the message you send (from one party to another) – i.e. loud machinery noise, poor communication connections, temperature. Psychological noise may involve perception, desires, bias, greed, fear, distrust, selective attribution, held by either party – for this reason it is important that you become aware of the impact of emotions (yours and theirs) in negotiations.

Semantic noise may involve the language or linguistic differences, how messages are conveyed and perceived – now what is being said but how it is said (Lewicki, Saunders and Minton)

Communication Channel: The channel is the medium through which our messages travel between sender and receiver. Email, face to face, telephone or video conference are examples of communication channels. We may also use multiple channels at once within a selected communication channel, such as auditory, non-verbal, touching etc. The choice of communication channels may assist to ‘insulate the message’ from communication ‘noise’. As an example, email may eliminate physical noise, telephone may reduce certain emotional noise involved with face to face interactions.

In high risk or crisis negotiations, awareness and the elimination of negotiation or communication ‘noise’ is a paramount concern as the negotiator/s contain the environment (including choice of communication channels) to focus upon the substance of the problem.

Use role reversals or seek to understand the other party by taking a ‘walk in their shoes’ – this process allows us to reduce the distortion of negotiation ‘noise’ by understanding the other parties problems, values and interests – empathy does not translate into agreement though it allows us to acknowledge and understand what is behind the other parties positions – feelings, values, situation and motivations, that may lead to identifying underlying real underlying interests.

Active listening – first seek to understand if you wish to be understood – the importance of strong listening skills and questioning/interview skills are used to clarify messages and filter negotiation noise from distorting communications (Lewicki, Saunders and Minton: ).  Active listening skills may include paraphrasing, summarising and/or mirroring.  Non-judgmental, active listening helps you to verify what the speaker actually says and means and this allows you to confirm, clarify or amend your perceptions and messages to make them more relevant (J. Devito: 1995).  Active listening also conveys respect, appreciation and understanding, that has the affect of lowering defensiveness and emotional noise during negotiation.

Paraphrasing, acknowledgement and re framing are important communication strategies that allow us to check understanding of messages delivered and received (clarity), acknowledging (feedback) to the other side that you understand their message, while placing messages in a more positive tone.

The use of inquiry/questions to probe behind messages for underlying meanings is important for just as positions are imprecise vehicles to convey underlying interests, words alone can be unreliable instruments to convey intent. It is important for us to recognise that the impact of the message delivered by the other party may not necessarily reflect their intent, highlighting the importance of qualifying communication.

In this post we have briefly touched on the issue of communication as perhaps not only a key element of negotiation, but also as the base of effective negotiation – your comment on this subject is welcome.

If you would like to have Peter Spence as a speaker, advisor/coach or trainer at your company, group or organisation please contact Peter via the website contact form or by email at and learn to become a better negotiator.

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SPANS will provide you with the key to negotiation success by helping you to become a more proficient negotiator, assist you to achieve better outcomes from your negotiations and strengthen your relationship network.

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