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  • Writer's picturejen calderon

Empathy Invite - a powerful skill to use in any negotiation

Sometimes a negotiation can stall or go completely off the rails for no apparent logical reason. This is a sign that there could be some negative emotions clogging up the process, like a bug in a computer. We use this technique to try and flush out the negative emotions in order to keep the negotiation flowing. Empathy invites are statements that comment on what you perceive or observe that the other person is feeling in the negotiation with an invitation to elaborate.

They demonstrate empathy and understanding for your counterpart while inviting them to further elaborate on their point; they are delivered as a statement whilst creating space for the other person to expand upon your comment.

Why is this important?

Our emotions are the driving engines of our actions for good and bad. Psychology once assumed that most human emotions fall within the universal categories of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. But a new study from Greater Good Science Center faculty director Dacher Keltner suggests that there are at least 27 distinct emotions—and they are intimately connected with each other. That means that there is an intricate matrix of 27 colourful emotional drivers influencing the way we feel and the way we interact with each other. The challenge is that we are taught to express ourselves in binary terms, good or bad. In some schools of negotiation, we are taught to actually hide those emotions.

We believe that actively observing and putting into words the emotions of your counterpart has a positive effect on building an empathetic bridge and lowers anxiety. This is called “Affect Labeling”.

Recent neuroimaging studies offer us an insight into possible neuro-cognitive mechanisms by which putting feelings into words (labelling) may alleviate negative emotional responses. The research carried out (Hariri, Bookheimer, & Mazziotta, 2000; Lieberman, Hariri, Jarcho, Eisenberger, & Bookheimer, 2005) suggested a notable drop in the activity of the amygdala when negative emotions were put into words. The amygdala is an almond-shaped cluster resting in the temporal lobes of the brain it is shown to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses.

A recent study done by Dr Michelle Craske at the UCLA lab highlighted this phenomenon by working with participants who had spider phobias. The guests were split into 4 groups and invited to take eight progressive steps towards the dreaded spider. Investigators assigned each participant to one of four experimental conditions that differed in their instructions for what to do with the anxiety:

1) Label the anxiety felt about the spider

2) Think differently of the spider so that it feels less threatening

3) Distract from the anxiety elicited by the spider

4) No specific instruction (control)

The results showed that the group that labelled their anxieties showed less signs of physiological stress as they drew closer to the spider. This is because labelling an emotion reduces stimuli that causes the brain to register the flight or fight response and puts us in a more resourceful state of mind.

Identifying Positive Emotions

Just as identifying a negative emotion reduces stress and promotes cooperation, identifying a positive emotion has the same effect. When we make a positive emotional observation such as, “it feels like you are being very open with me here” This makes your counterpart feel understood on an emotional level and by inference more willing to work with you to find a comfortable agreement.

This is why we train all participants of our Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation Course to observe and verbalise the emotions they sense in their counterparts

We have trialed this approach in practice sessions with 100s of negotiators in 10 different countries and in every case if an empathy invite is applied correctly and with authenticity, the result is exactly the same; reduced anxiety, increased empathy and a more cooperative conversation.

In your next negotiation try using some of these empathy invites to encourage your counterpart to elaborate on an observation you have made. What follows may be the key to helping you both create a deal that surpasses both of your expectations.

Examples of Empathy Invites:

  1. It feels like there is something frustrating you

  2. Is that surprise that you are feeling?

  3. You sound pretty confident about that

  4. Looks like you are warming up to the idea

  5. You are stressed out today it seems

  6. I noticed you smile just now seems like something amused you

  7. That sounds like the statement of someone who is passionate about…

  8. There is some doubt in your mind

  9. Sounds like if you were passionate you would be more open to the idea

  10. That smile shows you are feeling good about this today




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