“Negotiation Empathy – How To Use It Right To Increase Negotiation Skills”

“Empathy can improve relationships, until someone uses empathy to harm them.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert (Click to Tweet)

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“Negotiation Empathy – How To Use It

Right To Increase Negotiation Skills”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

During negotiation, most negotiators consider displaying empathy beneficial to the negotiation process. But, is it? While showing compassion and kindness (i.e., empathy) can be of value when negotiating, it can also be the doorway that leads to your negotiation demise. Thus, it becomes a variable you should be mindful of when negotiating. And this is why you should be aware of how negotiators use empathy during your talks.

The Science of Empathy

Empathy is the ability to sensitize and understand the feelings of other people. But not everyone displays empathy for others in every situation they find themselves in. Thus, everyone is empathetic to some degree. And that is a point worth noting during your negotiations – to what degree is the other negotiator displaying genuine empathy? Some negotiators weaponize empathy against their opponents. There is more about that in a moment.

The House Story And Empathy

A young couple saw a house listed for sale that they liked. A little old lady whose husband had recently passed away owned it. During the negotiation process, the young couple asked the old lady about the house’s condition. The old lady said in a frail, soft-spoken, and demurred voice that it was in move-in condition, implying nothing was wrong with the property.

The couple’s wife was ready to ink the deal upon hearing the old lady’s pronouncement about the house’s condition. She told her husband she had empathy for the old lady. After all, the old lady had recently lost her husband and would soon be leaving the home she had shared with him.

The husband, being cautious, thought an inspection of the home by a reputable firm was the prudent course to adopt. And when the inspection report came back, the inspector highlighted numerous faults in his account of the house. What happened between the old lady’s account of the house and the couple’s wife’s perspective – empathy?

The wife may have been experiencing what it would be like to lose her husband. The fact that she and her husband were negotiating with the old lady may have also made her feel uncomfortable, given the old lady had recently lost her husband. All of those emotions wreaked havoc on her ability to negotiate effectively.

Not so with the husband. He was not experiencing the same empathic neurons pinging and tugging at his emotions. And when he asked the old lady about the discrepancies in the report and her statements about the house being in move-in condition, she just smiled. The husband knew he had avoided a negotiation ‘gotcha’ – the empathy ploy the old lady was using to improve her negotiation outcome.  

How Empathy Is Weaponized

Con artists and some negotiators, one not to be confused with the other, will use empathy to weaken their counterpart’s resolve. During negotiation, a good negotiator aware of the power contained in empathy knows how to use it strategically. They know which emotional buttons to push to mold their counterpart’s will to become more accepting of offers. So, exactly how do they do that?

1. They assess the personality type of the other negotiator. Negotiators do that so they can match their personality type to appear more empathetic. The reason is, that people like people that are like themselves. That is to say, if someone can see themselves in another person, they are likelier to trust that individual, which causes them to lower their guard.

2. After that assessment, a negotiator weaponizing empathy may probe their counterpart with offers to see the reaction of their target, along with how quickly or slowly an offer is accepted or declined. The negotiator gets feedback throughout that process and continues to modify their probing efforts throughout the negotiation.

How To Prevent Being Burned By Empathy

Game recognizes game, as is said in some parlances. That means some people recognize when someone is attempting to alter their perspective for the perpetrator’s good. That is to imply you should keep your guard up when negotiating with someone you suspect is trying to suck you into a weakening negotiation position through the straw of empathy.

Empathy can be a potent potion that disarms you as a negotiator if you are unaware of the emotions tugging at your heart strings. So, pause when you hear or feel a tune that causes you to deviate from what you sense is the right thing to do for your benefit – question the force that is moving you to action. And if you identify empathy as that source, turn it off. In so doing, you will increase your negotiation skills and be better off for having done so.


Sometimes, everyone is an empath – someone able to feel another person’s mental and emotional state at a heightened level. Nothing is wrong with that, as long as you do not allow it to disadvantage your negotiation position. Showing empathy at the appropriate time during negotiation is a powerful tool to use. It increases your negotiation skills and ability to achieve a better negotiation outcome.

So, if you desire to increase your negotiation skills, be mindful of how you and your negotiation counterpart use empathy during your talks. That means, to the degree you can control it to advantage everyone involved in your dealings. That will allow your negotiation to flow more effortlessly while avoiding some of the bumps in the road you might have otherwise encountered. And everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating! 

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