“There is no such thing as logical, only what matters to someone.” That is how Chris Voss, a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI, summed up the human mindset in one sentence.
As a coach, researcher and entrepreneur, I always look for new ways to learn about how to provide clients with what they need, not just what they want. Sometimes there is an overlap, but not always.
Having read Never Split the Difference by Chris and listening to him in his course, a lot of memories came back from the time when I was working in nightclubs during my university years as a bouncer and as an executive coach working with senior leaders of global companies and their teams. Even though they are two completely different areas in pretty much every sense, they have one thing in common: Success was dependent on how well I could understand the people I was dealing with.
The nightlife provided an ideal environment to practice how to create trust and psychological safety rapidly in a situation where primal emotions replaced logical thoughts and the desire to discuss potential misunderstandings quickly turned into the absolute need to make sure the other person feels destroyed verbally or physically. Does it sound like a corporate meeting gone wrong? Yes, I have experienced similar situations in companies even if the techniques were slightly more sophisticated—the dynamics were very similar.
As soon as our amygdala reacts to real or imaginary threats, our cognitive reasoning goes down, the emotional charge goes up, fear and aggression kick in and empathy disappears. Fighting fire with fire just creates bigger flames, so that is exactly when we have to respond instead of just reacting.
The ability to do that determines the level of success we experience; that skill separates the average person from the excellent ones. Here are my insights on three techniques from Chris’s book that you can immediately apply in your personal and professional life whenever you need to negotiate a deal with your clients, decide what to watch with your partner at home or convince an angry customer to leave the club instead of throwing bottles at other party-goers.
Everyone wants to be valued and understood; it is a universal need we all have. It is like oxygen in the air, we quickly notice its absence and we get desperate to get some, no matter how.
Empathy is not about agreeing with someone, but recognizing the other person’s perspective and emotions so we can vocalize and label them to interrupt their intensity. According to research, the most efficient way of dealing with negative emotions is to observe them without judgement and reaction so they can be gradually replaced with more constructive and positive thoughts.
Having worked with a lot of teams globally, I have seen the same pattern in organizations. Most of the time, employees were not determined to be right, but they really wanted to be heard. When they felt their words fell on deaf ears, disengagement shot up and motivation dropped immediately.
Tactical empathy costs nothing, but it can be an invaluable tool to gather information, influence behavior and build rapport.
Taking The Sting Out
When would you be more impressed? If I promised you more and delivered less, or if I promised you less and delivered more?
It is more than likely that the second option would create a more pleasant experience. Taking out the sting is like a preemptive strike; it sets the expectations in a surprisingly honest way. For example, bringing up the counterpart’s potential doubts and concerns and labeling those fears can help to diffuse their powers. Leaving too much space for assumptions is dangerous as they tend to be negative and exaggerated. Bring them to the open space to deal with them.
Aim For fairness
Demanding fairness is like expecting everyone to have the exact same image in their mind when you ask them to think of a good memory. It is very subjective, yet when we feel something is unfair, an area in our brain called the anterior insula gets turned on, which is involved in feelings of empathy as well as a sense of disgust. When you feel disgusted by the lack of fairness, there is often no space for empathy.
We cannot read minds, but we can signal honesty, so ask your counterpart to let you know if they feel that something feels unfair so you can address it immediately and mutually.
Make Or Break
By applying tactical empathy, you clearly signal that you are listening to the other person and showing that they matter. By taking the sting out, you show them that you are honest, aware of the positive and negative circumstances and you can be trusted. By signaling fairness, you make it clear that even if there is a misunderstanding or something that does not feel right, it is not intentional or malicious and you are eager to find a solution. There is no need to be scared of hearing the word no—it is much better than getting a fake yes. A no opens up a conversation and it provides an opportunity to find out what matters to them when logic is out the window.