“This Is How To Use Empathy To Increase Negotiation Skills” – Negotiation Tip of the Week

“Sometimes, it’s better to display degrees of empathy based on the severity of indifference.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert

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“This Is How To Use Empathy

To Increase Negotiation Skills”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

Empathy is a tool negotiators can use to increase their negotiation skills. It is also a tool that can cause a negotiator harm if its usage is mistimed or misperceived.

In negotiations, empathy is the ability to understand and emotionally convey a shared feeling with one’s negotiation counterpart. It differs from sympathy by how it is perceived, the latter being more of a display of pity.

During negotiations, negotiators can use empathy in a myriad of ways. It can help establish trust, enhance rapport, prevent potential impasses, and create a better negotiating environment.

In this article, I highlight how to use empathy in negotiations, its benefits and potential downfalls, and how it can increase your negotiation skills.

Empathic Negotiation

Empathic Negotiation is a thought process intended to improve the mutual flow of information and greater understanding and respect for those engaged in the negotiation process. A side benefit is it enhances a negotiator’s ability to build trust and better understand their counterpart’s emotions and desires. But, one of the main benefits of being empathic is moving a negotiation along a path that leads to an acceptable outcome.

Empathic negotiation requires negotiators to be attentive to the moods of their opponents and become sensitized to the swings that affect the mood and tempo of the discussions occurring during the negotiation.

Benefits Of Empathy In Negotiation

As stated, empathy can be powerful in negotiations if used right; it can also be a negotiator’s downfall – more about that later. The following are a few benefits of using empathy in negotiations.

Building Trust: Empathy can help build trust amongst negotiators. A negotiator’s genuine empathy toward their counterpart can establish a more productive and non-threatening environment. And that can foster a better negotiation outcome.

Establishing Rapport: Every negotiator should attempt to establish rapport with the other negotiator. They should do that before negotiations and extend it throughout the talks. And empathy is the tool one can use to do that. When a negotiator shows empathy towards the opposition, it can connect the entities and desensitize them to situations that might otherwise hijack the negotiation.   

Promote More Productive Communications: Empathy can help improve communication among negotiators. By placing one in the shoes of their opposite, they can better understand that person’s perspective, leading to more productive communications. And empathy is the transporter that leads that process.

Potential Pitfalls To Using Empathy In Negotiations

While empathy can be a silent aide during negotiations, there are potential pitfalls. To avoid needless calamity, take note of the following and do not allow them to disrupt your exchanges.

Rejection Of Empathy: Empathy’s purpose, to solidify relations with the other negotiator, can become poisoned if the receiving individual spurns it. Thus, if the other negotiator is not receptive to empathy due to the suspicion of manipulation, it may not be effective in building trust or establishing rapport. Accordingly, be mindful of how your efforts to connect by being empathic are perceived and received. And if it is not accomplishing its goal, momentarily back away from its use.

Overly Identifying With Opponent: People may like people like themselves, but when a negotiator feels the effort is not sincere, the attempt to connect using empathy may backfire against its user. Be mindful of sensing how the other negotiator is receiving your actions. And do not engage in mimicking demeanor even if you discover that both of you like similar things. Always deliver your sentiments with sincere honesty.   

Emotional Manipulation: Most negotiators hate when someone manipulates them to their detriment. And when emotions are the source, invoked hatred for the person committing the act can become what sets retribution in motion. Be aware of when your opponent senses your usage of empathy as a manipulation tool.  

Empathy’s Absence: When a negotiation lacks empathy, the talks are void of compassion. That can lead to discussions that haphazardly lunge from one perspective to another – the exchanges between negotiators never finding their rhythm. And that can make for a distasteful negotiation process.  

Using Empathy In Negotiation

Now that you know the good and bad points of using empathy in negotiations, the following is how to enhance your efforts and negotiation skills. 

Actively Listening: Actively listening to the other negotiator will give you clues to hidden meanings and their demeanor. And doing that will allow you to know the degree of empathy to invoke and when and how to apply it. Negotiators become better when they listen to what is said and what is not; that comes from being an active listener.

Body Language And Empathy: Imagine someone telling you they understand your plight in the negotiation while they maintain a devilish grin on their face. Even if their words sound sincere, their body language is a mismatch. And when someone misaligns their body language and words, follow their body language. Their body will be more representative of what they are truly feeling. Thus, to have empathy perceived as being sincere, align your words with your gestures.  

The Other Negotiator Is Not The Problem: To best invoke empathy, do not villainize the other negotiator. Doing so will make it more challenging to display empathy. Instead, separate the individual from the negotiation challenges and convey your sense of doing so from that perspective. The more you can control your projected emotions, the more significant will become the opportunity to use empathy.


Empathy can be a negotiator’s silent partner, but one must consider its potential pitfalls to master its usage. By using empathy effectively and avoiding its deadly pitfalls, negotiators can increase their negotiation skills and achieve more successful outcomes. And everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

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After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

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