Negotiations can be tough, especially if the other person plays hardball. In these instances, understandably, you may want to get in and out as quickly as possible to avoid feelings of discomfort or intimidation. But by rushing through the negotiating process to avoid unpleasant feelings, you will also likely be walking away empty handed, asking yourself: "What was that?" and "What could I have done differently?"
The truth is, while a tough negotiation might instinctively trigger your fight, flight or freeze response, showing empathy instead of responding with aggression or fear in the face of confrontation can help you get a glimpse of what the other negotiator actually regards as important.
Empathy is understanding, being aware of, or being sensitive to someone else's feelings or experiences. Being empathic requires a certain level of vulnerability, which might feel like a contradiction in the context of a difficult negotiation, when you are feeling your most guarded. It isn't.
Think of empathy, for example, as a form of curiosity that can open you up to your interlocutor's perspective and needs. And try these four tips to develop more empathy in your negotiations.
1. Listen without defending.
When you feel defensive you build a wall that engulfs and protects you. The wall blocks information from coming in and going out. If you remind yourself that by listening you aren't giving anything away, then you will feel less threatened and your wall will come down and allow for the freer flow of information.
I have found when I am more guarded toward someone else because I do not trust them, it helps me if I ask myself: "What is really going on here?" I want to give myself space to more deeply understand the motivation behind the ask and behavior of the other person. By doing this I can still feel safe because I am taking in information and inquiring with genuine curiosity.
2. Adjust your body language.
As you inquire and listen to your negotiating partner, the other person will feel heard. This may be at the conscious or unconscious level and show itself in a shift in their tone of voice and/or their body posture as they feel more comfortable and at ease.
It is important for you to become more aware of your own body posture as well in order not to appear anxious or threatened. I tend to cross my arms and legs to protect my body. As the tone of the negotiation shifts, I need to remember to uncross my arms and legs. I often uncross my arms before I am ready because the stance reminds me to relax and sends a signal to my negotiating partner that I am comfortable and confident and that they should feel comfortable too.
3. Respond to what your counterpart is sharing.
If you share your point-of-view before the other party feels heard, then you may come off as defensive. Instead, make sure you are listening and responding to their comments; not just waiting to talk. This will allow your negotiating partner to become more relaxed, and then you can share your thoughts and be more comfortable in doing so.
For example, I have found that it is most effective to thank the other person for sharing information. I acknowledge what was shared by reflecting it back in my comments, such as "I was not aware of that." To introduce my thoughts on the matter, I start with "I have another perspective I would like to share." It is not criticizing or refuting previous comments, just offering another point-of-view.
4. Build a bridge.
After bringing down the wall, it is important to find common ground and identify a way forward. One way you can do that is by highlighting areas of shared interests. Ask the other person how they see you moving forward. In my own experience, I want to show consideration and hear the other side's thoughts first so I can assess what they are thinking and feeling and whether we share any of the same concerns or goals.
It is useful to have stock phrases handy to respond to their suggestions, especially if you do not agree. Some phrases that I find useful are, "Yes, that could be possible. Can you say more about how you see that unfolding?" With this statement, I am not necessarily committing to their idea, but I am seeking out more information so I can interject and move the conversation along to a more agreeable place.
A major part of any negotiation starts before you even get to the table with proper preparation. By practicing beforehand and showing empathy throughout the negotiating process, you will be increase your chances of success -- even in the presence of a hardball negotiator.