Empathy in Negotiation?

I’m reading “Getting More” by Stuart Diamond…again.  I don’t typically read books twice, but there is usable content in this book that it is hard not to.  It’s a book about negotiation, but feels like more than that. It’s also about how we get things done together. According to Diamond, what gets in the way of working together are differing mental pictures. You can come to a negotiation, but if you don’t try to see the situation the way the other party sees it, you’ll have a hard time reaching an agreement.

Photo Credit: Sharon Sinclair

Diamond recommends ‘role reversal’ practice as a way to gain knowledge about those with whom you are trying to negotiate. It’s just another way of saying, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” I’ve known some folks to bristle when you tell them to do this, but it is an invaluable exercise. I find it most interesting, oddly enough, when it comes to negotiating agreements with my kids. I try to make sure I understand their position and then see if I can repeat it back to them to make sure they know that I know where they are coming from.

Diamond argues that if you don’t show that you understand the other party’s position, the other party will get stuck in a loop and won’t come out of it. Do this early, he says. If I say, “[Son], it sounds like you’re frustrated that you’re not able to the same things as your friends. You’re worried that you won’t be able to talk to them about the same things that they’re talking about,” and I can get him to say, “That’s right” then I know I’m getting somewhere. It may take a few tries, though, because you may not understand at all the reason for his position. But that’s the point.

You really can’t help them meet their goals unless you understand their goals. Traditionally, negotiation has been about you reaching your goals at the expense of the other party. This may work once or twice, but over time you’ll find that you’re not able to make deals any more, argues Diamond. Also, you’ll suffer from a loss of credibility.

What I enjoy most about the concepts in “Getting More” is that they are counter-intuitive. Who knew that you would need so much empathy in order to engage in a successful negotiation? It’s almost like, if you want to negotiate with someone, you need to provide them a service. That service is listening. There is considerable value gifting the other party with the acknowledgement that they’re being heard. If you don’t provide that service, you’re going to get less because they’ll be crippled by an unmet need. Help them reach that goal and you’ll both get more!