At a conference last week I was extolling the value of the label among other active listening skills. The next morning a participant told me he had taken what I said to heart and decided to try it, via email, with an employee.
We probably love hearing “you’re right” more than we love hearing “yes” and “yes” has been described as the most beautiful word in any language. Yet every time we hear “you’re right” alarm bells should be going off in our mind because we are shortly getting ready to hit an impasse.
There is no question that the average person has some understanding of empathy. It would not be a surprise if your first instinctual reaction to the title of this article was “of course” or “yes I do.” Even if you weren’t sure, with technology today you could go to Google and look up empathy in a few seconds. This however doesn’t give a full understanding of what it means to be empathetic. What I really want to focus on is a true understanding of what it means to be empathetic and how to use empathy as a tool to improve your value, leverage and bargaining position in any negotiation. I don’t usually like to make guarantees, but for most I can promise by the end of this article you will have a better feel for what it means to really understand empathy.
The reason I try to make it a point to use empathy in all negotiations and most conversations is because I have had the luxury of experiencing how powerful it is. Simply put, I use empathy because it works. Not because I am sympathetic to my counterpart or feel their pain. Not because I am going out of my way to be manipulative. Not because my father is a retired hostage negotiator, although that does in fact have a lot to do with why I know how to use empathy effectively. No matter what the situation, even if it is impossible for a deal to be made, a proper display of empathy causes my counterpart to go the extra mile for me.
Last week, during a speech at Georgetown University, Secretary Hillary Clinton advocated, “…showing respect, even for one’s enemies. Trying to understand and, insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view…” As expected a significant number of pundits, professional and otherwise, pounced on her. The statement was dubbed, inane, naïve, and even a sign she had been embraced by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some suggested that she had blown her chances at a successful Presidential run in 2016.
As a hostage negotiator, I know that getting a hostage taker to use the hostage’s name humanizes the hostage and makes it less likely they will come to harm. This process is what we in The Black Swan Group now refer to as “forced empathy.” It makes the other side see you, and see you as a person.
This phrase is one of the negotiation philosophies we live by at Black Swan. It is amazing how much you can get accomplished in any given interaction/negotiation by appealing to the human nature side of someone else.