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Stop Being a Doormat - How Tactical Empathy® Strengthens Your Position!

By |April 29, 2024

The Misconception: Empathy Equals Weakness

At the heart of successful negotiation is the application of Tactical Empathy®.  However, many people struggle with the concern that being empathetic will put them in a position of weakness, and will hinder them in achieving their goals. They mistakenly believe that empathy means being a doormat, giving in to others' demands, and sacrificing their own needs. In reality, empathy is a powerful tool that, when used tactically, can help you create the opportunity to negotiate for what you want while maintaining strong relationships and achieving better outcomes.

Using Tactical Empathy® to focus on the needs of the other side does not make you weak. Quite the opposite is true; it allows you to gauge what is important to them which can guide you to a more collaborative result that will benefit both parties.

Often I get approached by people who say using empathy in a difficult conversation or negotiation makes them feel weak. They tell me things like “It doesn’t feel like I’m coming from a position of power” or “the other side could view me as soft or too ‘touchy feely’.” What they don’t understand is that this is their perception, not that of their counterpart.

Transforming from Doormat to Confident Negotiator

A correction to your mindset will fix this problem. The way we frame conversations in our own minds can set us up for both failure and success. If you tell yourself you are coming from a position of weakness-that’s where you’ll be. If you remind yourself that gathering information from the other side and figuring out what is important to them gives you what you need to form a trust-based influence, you will be arming yourself with everything you need to get the outcome that will work best for you and your counterpart.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is getting so stuck in our own heads and being so worried about how we look, we miss the fact that showing vulnerability does NOT make us weak. It makes us human! When you appear human to the other side you lessen the threat they may see you as. This lowers your chances of triggering your counterpart and keeps them in a positive mindset. Remember, your mind works 31% more efficiently in a positive state. Keeping your counterpart positive will lead to better outcomes.

The application of Tactical Empathy® is not exhibiting vulnerability, nor is it about being submissive or giving in to the other side's demands. It's about understanding their perspective, concerns, and motivations. By actively listening and demonstrating genuine interest in their point of view, you create an environment of trust and openness. This, in turn, encourages your counterpart to share more information, and most importantly, it encourages reciprocity which is critical when it is your turn to make your ask.

The key to successfully using Tactical Empathy® in a negotiation or difficult conversation is to focus on gathering information.  Think of the acronym, W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking?) Why. Am. I. Talking.  Effective application of Tactical Empathy® gets the other side talking. When you encourage the other person to share their perspective, you gain valuable insights into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. This information is crucial for understanding their position and finding a mutually beneficial solution. By expressing genuine interest and curiosity through the use of the Black Swan Method, you create a safe space for the other side to open up and share more. If you are doing most of the talking, you are not learning.  

Ask Calibrated Questions™ that invite your counterpart to elaborate on their position. Use phrases like "How does that line up with what you envisioned…”or "What are your thoughts on..." to encourage them to share their insights. As they speak, pay close attention to their words, tone, and body language. This will give you a clearer picture of what matters most to them and what they hope to achieve.

Another powerful tool in your skill set should be the use of Labels™ - simple, straightforward statements that acknowledge your counterpart's feelings or situation. For example, you might say, "It seems like you're feeling frustrated with the current arrangement" or "It sounds like you're concerned about the project timeline." By validating their emotions, you show that you're listening and that you care about their perspective. This helps to build rapport and trust, which are essential for a successful negotiation.

Mirrors™ and Dynamic Silence™ are techniques that keep the conversation flowing. By repeating the last few words of the other person's statement or simply remaining silent, you create space for them to continue talking. This allows you to gather more information and gain a deeper understanding of their perspective. Once you feel that you have a good grasp of the other side's view, you can use a Summary™ to articulate their position clearly and concisely. This Summary acts like a bow on the delivery of Tactical Empathy®, demonstrating that you have heard and understood their concerns.

Summaries™ are also great for transitioning to the next phase of the conversation where you can begin to introduce your own perspectives and ideas. A Summary might sound something like, "So far you have said you're concerned about the project timeline and the potential impact on your team's workload. As a result you want to ensure that we have a realistic plan in place that takes these factors into account." This creates an opportunity for them to confirm, clarify or elaborate further. When you receive confirmation, it is the opportune time for you to transition into your ask.

Learn everything you need to know about mastering your tone of voice.

The Power of Trust-Based Influence

It's important to remember that using Tactical Empathy® doesn't mean agreeing with everything your counterpart says. You can acknowledge their feelings and concerns without necessarily sharing their opinion or even liking them. As you navigate the conversation, be mindful of your own emotional state. If you find yourself getting defensive or frustrated, take a moment to step back and reframe your mindset. By maintaining a positive, collaborative attitude, you'll be better equipped to handle any challenges that arise and to steer the conversation in a productive direction.

Ultimately, using Tactical Empathy® in a negotiation or difficult conversation is about building a strong, trust-based relationship with your counterpart. It isn't about being weak or giving in.  It’s about understanding and connecting with others to create the opportunity to ask for what you want. By demonstrating a genuine understanding of their perspective, you produce an environment where both parties feel heard and respected. 

When you master the art of combining Tactical Empathy® and collaboration, you unlock the true power of a negotiation and open the door to more successful interactions in every aspect of your life.

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