There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them.
But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead.
That’s according to Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and author of the new book, “Never Split the Difference.” Voss says that showing your negotiation partner you can see things from their perspective ends up making it easier to influence them.
It’s a strategy he calls “tactical empathy,” and it works just as well in negotiations between cops and criminals and arguments between friends.
One way to exhibit tactical empathy is by labelling the other person’s emotions. You can say, “It seems like…” or, “It sounds like…” and explain how you think the other person is feeling.
In the book, Voss gives an example of how labelling works. A student of his (Voss also teaches at business schools) was fundraising for the Girl Scouts when she encountered a potential donor who was particularly stubborn.
That potential donor said she refused to contribute because she wanted her gift to directly support programming for Girl Scouts — and nothing else.
The student responded: “It seems that you are really passionate about this gift and want to find the right project reflecting the opportunities and life-changing experiences the Girl Scouts gave you.”
The woman signed a check, saying she knew the fundraiser understood her and would find the right project.
By labelling the woman’s passion and identifying her specific concerns, the student effectively disarmed the woman and won her support.
Here’s an easier strategy in Voss’ tactical empathy arsenal: Try paraphrasing what the other person is saying. You can practice this technique in everyday life, even if you’re not arguing with anyone at the moment.
When Voss visited the Business Insider offices in May, he explained why summarizing the other person’s perspective before you move on works so well: “People love to be listened to.”
So resist the impulse to tell a story of your own when someone shares an insight with you, and instead take time to reflect on what they just said. In a negotiation, that behaviour could make your opponent more amenable to giving you what you need.
Regardless of whether you label, paraphrase, or both, the key takeaway here is that you can surprise your negotiation partner and potentially deescalate the situation by making the person feel heard and valued.
No kicking and screaming, threats, or bribery required.
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