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The Role of Empathy in Negotiation

During the negotiation process, if you are closed off from the other person’s perspective and point of view, you are missing a key component of effective negotiation—empathy.

It’s important that you learn to strike a balance between your own interests and the human element of the conversation. Even during a negotiation, humans don’t lose their ability to emotionally connect with another person. Thus, it’s key that you take empathy into account during negotiations to ensure a mutually agreeable solution that can preserve your relationship with your negotiating partner.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, having empathy means that you have the ability to assess and understand someone else’s feelings. In order to empathize with a person during negotiations, you’ll have to tap into their emotions and attempt to understand their personal perspective. When you can intuitively connect to your partner in this way, you can begin to anticipate their needs and construct a solution that is satisfying to you both.
In most situations, empathy is not a conscious act. However, you can endeavor to use empathy to steer the negotiation in a direction that will not only serve to draw more information from your negotiating partner but help you identify a goal that may meet both your needs. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a mind-reader to negotiate with empathy. Try to remain aware of your partner’s emotional responses throughout the discussion. If you listen carefully, it will be far easier to gauge your discussion partner’s inner feelings or emotions about the situation, allowing you to better evaluate your response.
The Three Forms of Empathy
Empathy doesn’t always look the same, depending on the context. In fact, it is possible for a person to empathize with someone else on multiple different levels. All empathetic responses can be categorized into one of these three types:

  • Cognitive empathy. This is the most logic-focused type of empathy. Rather than tuning into your negotiation partner’s emotional experience, you are attempting to place yourself into their position. In this way, cognitive empathy can help you better understand your partner’s perspective and position, as well as their motivation for pursuing their goals. In turn, by understanding their thoughts and point of view, you can construct and offer effective counterpoints. Cognitive empathy is the form of empathy that is most relevant to business negotiations.
  • Emotional empathy. This type of empathy is exactly what it sounds like—an empathetic response derived from understanding and relating to your partner’s emotions in a particular situation. Unlike cognitive empathy, you are not necessarily placing yourself in their shoes to understand their overall perspective. Instead, you’re interpreting the emotional state of your negotiation partner and gauging your own emotional response.
    Of course, when showing emotional empathy is a deliberate, performative act, it is more likely to impair the conversation and make you appear disingenuous. Conversely, if you too strongly relate to another person’s emotions, it can become more difficult to manage your own. During negotiation, it is important to keep close tabs on your emotional empathy.
  • Compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is what most people are referring to when they colloquially use the word “empathy.” This form of empathy is achieved by relating to another person’s emotional distress before attempting to remedy it to the best of your ability. It is important to communicate that you understand the other person’s emotions without adopting them as your own.

Negotiating While Using Empathy
As we’ve mentioned, it’s important to implement empathy into the negotiation process in order to better connect with and understand your negotiating partner. Overall, this will give you a clearer sense of how to approach negotiations in a way that will appeal to the other person’s feelings and perspective. Then, you can more accurately ascertain a mutually agreeable solution.
As mentioned, cognitive empathy is the form of empathy that is most prevalent during business negotiations. Again, this involves placing yourself in your partner’s position in order to develop a better understanding of their perspective. In a business context, this will allow you to get a grasp on your negotiation partner’s motivations and end goals. Keeping these goals in mind will make it easier to guide the conversation in a particular direction that is agreeable for you both.
In a business setting, it is possible to employ empathy by using the following strategies:

  • Use active listening, including looking for vocal and physical cues, especially in response to your own position and offers.
  • Maintain relaxed body language and neutral expressions, and avoid appearing closed off to further discussion.
  • Offer relevant responses directly related to your partner’s points to show that you are listening and working towards understanding.
  • Always try to find common ground to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Empathy In Negotiations Can Help You Reach Mutual Goals
Having a callous approach to business negotiations does not benefit your position in the long run. Instead, take advantage of your natural sense of empathy in order to better understand your partner’s perspective and uncover their end goals. By employing empathy, you can anticipate their needs and negotiate a better solution for both parties.