The 3 Steps to Taking an Emotional Negotiation Approach

Why is empathy important in negotiations? How can you succeed at an emotional negotiation approach?

Reading other people’s emotions is crucial for negotiations. When you know how another person is feeling, you can offer them what they want with an offer they can’t deny.

Keep reading to learn more about the emotional negotiation approach.

The Emotional Approach

In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss writes that good negotiation happens on the emotional level of the brain, not the rational level. Your job as a negotiator, Voss argues, is to practice and display empathy toward your counterpart by understanding their emotions, learning to see the situation from their point of view—and, ultimately, getting them to feel comfortable enough with you to let their emotional guard down. When they’ve reached this level of comfort with you, you’re in a better position to get them to agree to your terms and conditions and meet your needs. 

According to Voss, most people have two basic emotional needs—to feel secure and to feel in control. To help your counterpart meet these needs in an emotional negotiation, Voss advocates using calculated empathy—understanding someone else’s feelings to get what you want from them. This enables your counterpart to feel emotionally safe with you—to see you more as a partner than an adversary. Calculated empathy techniques include:

  • Talking slowly and calmly to show that you’re concerned about how the other person feels.
  • Using a light and encouraging voice to put your counterpart at ease.
  • Identifying, vocalizing, and labeling your counterpart’s emotions through phrases like, “It seems like you’re disappointed by what’s being offered.” 

Once you’ve used these techniques to get your counterpart to see you more as a partner (or even a friend) rather than an adversary, you’ll be able to tap into their real desires and fears. And once you’ve unlocked these, you’ll have the upper hand.

1. Establish an Emotional Connection by Building Trust

Similarly, Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman (Negotiation Genius) write that building trust and establishing an emotional connection with your counterpart is key to a successful negotiation. They urge you to use vocabulary that your counterpart understands and consider spending time with them outside of the negotiation setting. This will make them more cooperative and open to sharing information with you. 

Likewise, Roger Fisher and William Ury (Getting to Yes) emphasize the need to build a positive relationship and person-to-person connection with the other side. Before negotiations begin, get to know the people on the other side personally. It’s easier to negotiate with someone you know than with a stranger. Meet informally, learn each others’ likes and dislikes, and take the time to chat when you run into people whom you might have to negotiate with. 

2. Understand Cognitive Biases

Once you’ve established an emotional connection with your counterpart by practicing strategic empathy and developing an interpersonal relationship, you can use that insight to take advantage of your counterpart’s cognitive biases: mental errors in routine information processing that impact how we react to situations and form judgments. Knowing your counterpart’s emotional wants and needs will enable you to frame your proposals and counteroffers in a way that appeals to those wants and needs.

Voss (Never Split the Difference) identifies some key cognitive biases that you can use to your advantage. 

The framing effect: People respond differently to identical choices based solely on how they’re presented. For example, you’re a hiring manager and you’re trying to get a candidate to accept a job, but you don’t want to exceed the salary posted on your job description. And in the course of the negotiation, you’ve picked up that this candidate has an emotional need for a healthy work/life balance. Without budging on salary or changing anything substantive about the job, you can use the framing effect to position the job in a way that speaks to those needs and makes the job more appealing. You might do this by highlighting flexible working hours, generous vacation policies, and remote work.

Loss aversion: People fear an equal loss more than they value an equal gain. Knowing this, you can put yourself in a strong negotiating position by framing your preferred solution as one that prevents your counterpart from incurring a loss. For example, if you’re making an offer on a house that needs some work, you might say something like, “The house is great, but it definitely needs significant contracting work. Now, I’m willing to waive inspection, but if we take too long, I might have to start looking for other deals.” By making them fear missing out on the sale, you make them more likely to accept your offer than if you’d framed it in purely positive terms. 

3. Take Advantage of Logical Biases

Knowing how to take advantage of your counterpart’s irrationality can give you a powerful edge. In The Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli identifies a set of logical biases that, like Voss’s cognitive biases, enable you to take advantage of your counterpart’s emotional needs and desires by getting them to overlook what might be their rational self-interest. 

Social proof and authority bias: To maintain your place in a group, you’re pressured to copy other people’s behavior, especially if that person is an authority. For example, if you’re selling your house and you come to understand that status and prestige are powerful emotional needs for the buyer, you might emphasize that your neighborhood is home to a lot of wealthy, powerful, influential people who’ve also decided that it’s a great place to live.

Story bias: People prefer entertaining narratives to boring facts. In a negotiation context, taking advantage of your counterpart’s story bias might mean shying away from reciting facts about how your offer is advantageous for your counterpart. Instead, you might tell a story about the kind of life they could lead or the kind of person they could be if they make a deal with you. For example, if you’re selling your home to a first-time homebuyer, you might emphasize that buying the house is their entry to homeownership, generational wealth creation, and their first step toward realizing the American Dream.

The 3 Steps to Taking an Emotional Negotiation Approach

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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