“Empathy” is one of the most important abilities a human can possess. It’s a trait that is not equally bestowed on each individual. However, each individual, in general, can train themselves to be more empathetic.
In business or personal negotiation, empathy plays a critical role. Most of us have heard that “in a successful negotiation, everyone wins. The objective should be an agreement, not victory”. To effectively reach a win-win scenario, one must first understand the perspective of the other side. Many negotiations are not collaborate because one side is too focused on its own objectives, and doesn’t value the other perspective. These are competitive negotiations, which may be acceptable when buying a car, but not appropriate in most work situations.
As an executive, I have some form of negotiations almost everyday with employees, clients, vendors, and partners. I go into a negotiation with a general plan for my objectives and what I believe MIGHT be the other’s main goals. However, I really try to listen, not only to the words, but also to the tone of the voice and body language. This helps me to empathize, or try to be in the other person’s shoes. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person’s perspective, but you have to understand it. And in understanding, geniune empathy will naturally occur, which in turn ususally makes the other person more empathetic to your views. Verbally acknowledging the other person’s concerns or issues as valid doesn’t weaken your position, but rather strengthens the dialogue.
Many times, I would go into a meeting somewhat angry about what I presumed were the position/motives of the other person. But if I’m honestly listening to them, I usually can empathize with them. Most people are reasonable, but our emotional reaction to incomplete information tends to be from a “worse-case scenario” perspective. We ususally believe the worse without adequate information. Then, we get emotional, which makes a matter personal, which leads to an irrational position.
Some empathetic ways to improve your negotiations are:
- Do not make the negotiations personal. Stay focused on the issue.
- If the other person is emotional or taking the dicussion personal, let them have their say, don’t cut them off. Most people will stop themselves if you stay calm and engaged.
- Repeat in your own words the other person’s point, it will help you empathize and show willingness to listen.
- Try to explain your objectives using some of their words, or from an angle of their perspective.
- Stay focused on a good win-win scenario, and resist temptation to be greedy.