In negotiations, a fundamental challenge is to strike an effective balance between empathy, assertiveness and emotions, especially negative emotions. Empathy involves effectively understanding your counterpart’s perspective and expressing his viewpoint in a nonjudgmental manner. Assertiveness is the ability to express and advocate for your own needs, interests and perspectives. Dealing with emotions is to recognize your emotions and your counterpart’s emotions, and acknowledge each side’s emotions.
Remember, a party will not listen to you until the party feels listened to and acknowledged. To balance empathy with assertiveness and emotions in your negotiations, begin by assessing your approach to conflict. Could the negotiation trigger within you a tendency towards competition, emotions, accommodation, or avoidance? By thinking about how you are likely to respond in a particular context, you can begin to replace your unproductive negotiating tendencies or strategies with more rewarding ones.
Appreciate your counterpart’s emotions and concerns. When someone is upset, they likely want you to recognize their feelings and see the merits of their concerns. Doing so can go a long way toward promoting understanding and reducing the intensity of strong emotions.
Take time to describe what you’re witnessing and communicate that you understand. For example, acknowledge their feelings and emotions by saying, “I get the sense you’re frustrated that it’s taking us a while to reach an agreement. I can see why that might be, as I know you’ve put a lot of time into these talks and these issues are important to you.”
Suggest taking a short break. Because time away from the conflict allows tense emotions to ease. You have shown empathy and assertiveness at the same time. You have balanced empathy, assertiveness and emotions.
Rather than assuming you know why your counterpart is feeling angry or upset, push your notes aside and ask directly, “Is there something I did to upset you?” “Help me understand why you are upset.”
There is a good chance you will gain new information that will help you bridge the differences between you.
To practice and display empathy during a negotiation, ask your counterpart to present his or her view before you present yours. Listen without judgment, and make it clear that your understanding does not necessarily indicate agreement.
These tips are useful in negotiations between lawyer and client, between opposing lawyers, or at mediation.