In a previous article, Negotiate Like a Pro: Ask the Right Questions, I wrote about the importance of understanding how to help your negotiation counterparts achieve their most important personal objectives while simultaneously serving the business needs of your respective organizations. If you are going to do business with someone, it must be related to enabling them to achieve a better future state.
To get there, it is essential to have a genuine curiosity that your counterparts can sense. When they understand that you desire to improve their condition, they are more likely to follow and actually move closer to your way of thinking. In that regard, empathy is one of the most essential leadership characteristics.
Many sales leaders may agree that capability (the ability to deliver), integrity and confidence are essential components to gaining trust in business situations. You are fortunate indeed if you have a lot of capability, tons of credibility and are beaming with confidence. But you also need to keep in mind that your greatest strengths can be perceived as arrogance — unless you balance them with humility and compassion — which flow from empathy.
You can see the negative impact of arrogance absent of empathy in politics and leaders in the business world. Even when victories are achieved with determination and persistence, if the other side does not feel that its needs have been considered and prioritized, there are often negative consequences. Empathy is the salve that can heal, or better yet, prevent these wounds.
Given balanced choices, most business partners would rather deal with quietly confident individuals who demonstrate and apply their capabilities than those who laud themselves unfettered. Humility and empathy often contribute positive leverage to smooth the inevitable bumps in the negotiation process. As Stephen Covey put it, “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
When your counterparts understand that you are empathetic, you can even apply negative leverage to demonstrate that they are about to make an ill-advised decision if they don’t follow your suggestions.
Why Patience Is A Master Negotiation Skill
When people are immersed in their own deals and facing pressure to make something happen, they can lose the ability to listen. Under pressure, people tend to talk too much to try to force decisions. Most mistakes are made by individuals who open their mouths when they do not have to or shouldn’t. As a result, they will over promise and under deliver, when a better approach would be doing the exact opposite.
This is where patience comes into play. By resisting the urge to jump in and show your knowledge, and focusing on active listening instead, you can gather information that boosts your knowledge and provides context about your negotiation counterpart(s), the company’s environment, the marketplace and so forth.
Once you have that information in hand and place it in the proper context, you can improve your own level of confidence and, even more importantly, build the confidence of individuals you’re dealing with.
Give and take are part of virtually all negotiations. But you never want to be in a position where you are making unnecessary concessions because you didn’t exercise your patience and listen enough to understand critical facts and motivations. These types of unprincipled concessions are not tied to a credible business rationale because you haven’t gathered the knowledge to develop rationales for making or declining them. Sometimes, these concessions come as a surprise to the other side.
Recently, I received a call from a telecommunications rep who promised to give me an additional 25% discount below the already promised 25% if my team and I switched service providers. Not once did he ask what I liked or didn’t like about the current provider. In fact, he had no idea whether the additional discount was necessary or warranted. This type of behavior affects credibility and even worse, can lead to an environment where more and more concessions are expected.
To put the need for empathy and patience in human terms, consider the last time someone tried to sell you something or otherwise do business with you and you did not feel that they had empathy or listened to you. Perhaps they talked past you or took your motivations for granted. Perhaps they offered what you felt was insincere flattery. The lesson is that behaviors that offend you as a buyer should be avoided when the positions are reversed.
Here are five reasons why the development and practice of empathy and patience can lead to a major improvement in your negotiation effectiveness.
- People prefer to buy from those they like and trust — and they tend to like those who demonstrate empathy and patience by caring about them and listening to their needs.
- Empathy and patience are precursors to respectful discussions in which people are willing to share information so you can understand the terrain in which you are operating. And this knowledge is always helpful as it provides the basis for building value with which the other side can agree.
- Empathy and patience create an environment that is both more pleasant and productive for buyers and sellers alike.
- Empathy and patience build up a bank of positive goodwill that buyers and negotiation partners will draw on to give you the benefit of the doubt when things do not go as planned or inevitable mistakes are made.
- Honing these important traits can differentiate you from your competition.
President Teddy Roosevelt is attributed with the observation that “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is an oft-quoted sentiment that is much easier to say than it is to practice. But when you show that you care by demonstrating empathy and patience, the results can be profound and profitable.
Note: this article originally appeared in February, 2022 on Forbes.com. You can view the original post here.