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Empathy in Negotiation

Two figures on the chalk board to signify Empathy in NegotiationFormer President Bill Clinton famously told us, “I feel your pain.” I am unsure if he truly had empathy for those who were listening and if he really felt our pain, but I do know that to be an effective negotiator, once must learn to show empathy.

Empathy is defined as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings,
thoughts, or attitudes of another.” In a negotiation, empathy is an important asset because it allows both counterparts to see the other’s perspective and conduct the negotiation in a way that is beneficial to both parties.

Another benefit of empathy lies in the fact that if you properly construct your reflective response, your counterpart’s natural reaction will be to provide more explanation and information. You will find the following tips helpful in learning to be more empathetic.

  1. Recognize and identify emotions. Most inexperienced negotiators are not adept at recognizing a myriad of emotions. However, you will find it easier to identify others’ emotions if you can easily identify your own. Make it a habit to check how you are feeling. Are you frustrated, stressed, angry, happy, sad, nervous? Now, use the following skills to identify your counterpart’s emotions:

  2. Rephrase the content. If you restate your counterpart’s comments word for word, she will believe you are parroting her. Doing so not only sounds awkward, but also makes your counterpart angry. The key is to restate the content using different words.

  3. Make noncommittal responses. A good way to start reflective statements is with such phrases as “It sounds like…”; “It appears that…”; or “It seems like…” These phrases work well because they are noncommittal. If you blatantly state, “You are angry because…” most people will proceed to tell you why you are incorrect.

  4. Make educated guesses. Recently we were involved in a negotiation for the sale of a business. The seller told the potential buyer that the offer he had submitted for buying the business was ridiculous. The buyer responded, “It almost sounds like you are insulted by my offer.” The seller replied, “Not insulted, just shocked.” Although the buyer was not entirely accurate in his assessment of his counterpart’s emotion, it was a good educated guess. Educated guesses work well because even if your guess is not entirely accurate, it will most likely encourage your counterpart to clarify his true feelings.

If you put these 4 tips into action in your daily negotiations, you will notice a shift: you will find yourself better able to understand your counterpart’s perspective and objectives which will increase your chances of coming to an outcome that is mutually beneficial.

What have you learned about showing/being empathetic in negotiations?

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