Empathy is often both the most misunderstood, and least utilized tactic when it comes to business negotiations. However, successful negotiators who understand empathy and how it relates to negotiation, and can put it into practice, can experience a significant difference in their sales. Read on to find out more about empathy and how you can use it to your benefit in your negotiation tactics.
What Is Empathy?
Often confused or lumped in together with sympathy, empathy is all about relating to how others feel. Most of us have at one time sent a sympathy card to express feeling sorry for another’s misfortune or loss. Sympathy is what we say we feel for another person’s situation, and while empathy is similar, it goes a little deeper than that.
When you feel and express empathy, it means you truly consider what the other person is going through and understand the range of emotions that they feel as a result. Being empathetic involves being more compassionate, listening more, and imagining yourself “walking around in someone else’s shoes.” It’s often easy to tell the difference between sympathy and empathy because true empathy feels more genuine. It is felt on a deeper emotional level and helps to build trust in relationships.
Empathy in Negotiation
In any negotiation, the goal is a compromise or agreement between two parties. It can be very intimidating, especially if dealing with contentious topics. Arguments, discussion, and bargaining can all be part of the process of negotiating. You may feel inclined to rush through a negotiation quickly just to get it over with. But those who are most successful in negotiations know how to listen to the other party so as to understand their side of the negotiation and what their wants and needs are. Taking the time to listen and understand can defuse the tension, and lead to more satisfying results for both sides.
Negotiation usually involves some type of relationship building, and the process of listening and learning about the other party’s views. Empathy is a natural fit for this process, and when utilized can lead to much greater success in getting the other party to agree to your terms and compromises. Try to understand the other point of view by listening more. Vocalize your understanding of their feelings to let them know that you relate to their ideas or needs.
How to Be More Empathetic
Using and expressing empathy isn’t always easy, and it’s more than just “being nice” to others. In fact, to be empathetic, you don’t even have to like the other person or their viewpoints, or agree with them. You just need to genuinely understand their side of the negotiation. Some people are naturally better at using empathy, but it is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and honed over time. Here are some steps you can take to practice more empathy in any relationship:
1. Identify your own emotions. Make a mental note of your own feelings whenever you feel happy, sad, angry, or excited. Notice your facial expressions and body language and how they correlate to your inner feelings. When you understand and recognize your own emotions, you’ll be able to identify them in others more easily.
2.Watch for body language. Nonverbal cues include tone of voice, body language, and other hints. These hints can often give more information about emotions than what the other person is saying, and sometimes even contradict the spoken words to reveal true feelings.
3. Listen intently. Ask lots of insightful, open-ended questions of your opponent, but sit back and let them speak. Be open and show genuine interest in their answers.
4.Find common ground. Often called “building a bridge,” this involves discovering shared interests and ideas. Find out especially if there are any shared goals in your negotiation resolution. This can lead to compromise quickly and efficiently.
5. Do not express disagreement, judgment, or get defensive. Even if you disagree on the inside, try to remain as neutral as possible and continue to listen. Judging or attacking ideas can lead to the other person shutting down and delaying resolution.
6. Show you are listening. Encourage the other person to share, smile at them, and use your own body language to express interest, instead of appearing closed off. Relax, don’t cross your arms, and watch your tone of voice to show that you are open.
Practicing these steps in conversations, and in negotiations will demonstrate to the other party that you have empathy. You will find that others will then be able to trust you more easily and open up to you more.
Why Empathy Is Necessary
Without empathy in the negotiation process, it can be easy to come to an impasse. Those on either side of the table can just dig in their heels and be less willing to budge. However, when empathy is utilized, the opposing side feels understood, and that their feelings are heard. They may be more willing to understand your side as well, and it may be easier to reach an agreement.
Some people may fear that they can be too empathetic, taking it too far and getting so overwhelmed by the other person’s feelings that they forget their own needs. This can be tricky, but take a step back and remind yourself of your goals in negotiating. Use the insights you’ve gained from listening to the other person and come back to the table ready to reach an agreement. When you understand the other person’s needs and motivations, you can use this information to suggest bargains that will appeal to what they want, ultimately leading you to negotiating success.
Negotiation is an important business skill to master, and practicing empathy can make you a better negotiator. If you want to learn more about negotiation in general and find resources for negotiation training, contact Shapiro Negotiations. We have the necessary experience and tools to help you improve your negotiation skills or train your team through classroom training, consulting, keynote speeches, and virtual options.
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