Historically, people approach negotiation with some level of negativity: fear, uncertainty, disadvantage, aggression. The “new order” of negotiation uses a more sophisticated, emotionally intelligent approach: empathy.
It might seem strange at first, but if you think about the conditions that make a negotiation favorable all the way around, there is some level of trust among the negotiating parties. When people feel comfortable, they give and take more flexibly. Empathy sows the seeds of trust, unlike jockeying for domination, superiority, or one-upmanship, which breeds distrust and skepticism.
You should recognize that most people still come to the negotiation table armed with negativity, even if you don’t. However, that’s OK!
Even if other parties prepare for negotiations ready to go to battle, your empathetic approach can still bring a much more favorable outcome.
In order to get a favorable outcome, you want to create a favorable environment. This is why using empathy works to generate that environment for you:
- You generate a space of safety for the other party.
- Safety breeds trust.
- Trust allows the truth of real, underlying roadblocks to be surfaced earlier.
- The truth about real roadblocks allows you to address them in an authentic way.
In the traditional negotiation approach, you can get quite far only to find everything break down based on something that was buried deep in the recesses of someone’s mind or secret motivations. Unfavorable environment –> unfavorable outcome.
In contrast, the empathetic negotiation approach gets to the underlying truth. This is always better than everyone wearing battle armor throughout the process. Wearing armor and masking underlying roadblocks means you move forward with unvalidated assumptions, or you are trying to “read between the lines” (often inadequately or unsuccessfully).
You want the foundation of your negotiations to be on bedrock rather than landfill. Don't eliminate assumptions. Validate them. Click To Tweet
So how do you approach negotiation in an emotionally intelligent, empathetic way? There are MANY ways to create a good negotiating environment, but try these first:
- Leave your ego at the door, even if others don’t.
- Practice active listening techniques to validate the other party’s position. (When they say, “That’s right,” you know you’ve accomplished this.)
- Focus more on your behavior rather than exactly which words to use. Behavior builds rapport more quickly and efficiently than words. Measure the tone of your voice. Mirror other people’s gestures, energy, and eye contact to establish similarity, familiarity and collegiality.
- Get comfortable with pauses and long silence. Don’t feed the compulsion to interpret this as emptiness and begin to chatter or repeat yourself. Instead, lean into silence. Create a safe space for you and others to process information and be deliberate and considerate.
When you see the other party as someone who wants and needs to be heard, rather than an opponent only in it to get theirs, you can create an opportunity to unearth their concerns, address them, and get to a mutually beneficial discussion during your negotiations. Then, the chances of a great outcome are very high.
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