Summary: Actively listening to a counterpart and empathizing with his feelings.
A counterpart who feels you do not understand his feelings, needs, or goals may build up a defensive wall. Breaking through that wall could make the negotiation take two or three times as long—or you might not succeed in breaking through the wall at all. Sometimes you are better off letting go of the facts in a negotiation and focusing on the emotions behind the facts. A counterpart who believes you are really listening to his needs and goals and understand how he feels is more willing to cooperate with you.
We were hired by a school district to resolve a dispute it was having with some parents. The dispute revolved around the fact that a group of deaf preschoolers was left unsupervised on a playground. The preschoolers’ parents were angry about the lack of supervision. They were especially angry because they felt that everyone who represented the school district was busy documenting facts to “play it safe,” and no one really cared about the parents’ concerns. We began to facilitate the negotiation by listening to the parents express their concerns for nearly two hours. Then our first words to them were, “We have small children, too, and we can understand why you are upset.” The parents responded, “We would not have made such a case out of this situation if someone had listened to us as you just did.”
One tactic to utilize is If You Were in My Shoes. In this case, the parents could have said, “If you really understand how we feel, tell us how you would handle the situation if you were in our position.”
Another tactic is to make a call for action: “We appreciate the fact that you understand how we feel. That is important. It is equally important that we come to a decision about what action needs to be taken to ensure that this type of situation never arises again.”
Have you used or encountered this tactic in your negotiations? If so, how’d it go?