I recently taught a class on negotiation. Something the group really engaged with was the idea of having empathy for the counterpart. There are many benefits to this behaviour: gaining insight into why the other person is sitting at the table, understanding their priorities, and determining opportunities to work more effectively together. As a group, we generated several concrete ways that empathy can be utilised during a negotiation. For example, to identify and politely label a negative emotion coming from the other party: ‘I’m getting the sense that you are frustrated with the progress we are making.’ The class focused in on this idea and began to wonder what this would look like in their own conversations.
Does this mean that I influenced the group to change their behaviour? No. I know from the coaching work I do with executives that unless people internalise a concept and try it out successfully, they are unlikely to change their behaviour. If someone from the class does effectively use empathy during a negotiation it will be because they developed ideas for how to do it, determined potential benefits, and created an opportunity to try it out. But the first step in this series is to raise awareness. Once someone understands that empathy is helpful in a negotiation, they will need to figure out how to connect with the other person, how to think about how they might be feeling, and how to reflect on times when they have felt the same way. The successful adoption and practice of a new behaviour like this is the result of independent exploration, interest, and trial and error – not just because they were made aware of it.
Raising awareness is step one. Here are some other key steps for encouraging and motivating behaviour change:
Provide a forum to discuss the relative merits of the new behaviour
Give people the space to generate ideas about how to practice the new behaviour
Create a safe space for them to try it out
Identify future opportunities where this change in behaviour could occur
Check back in after they have tried the behaviour out to discuss what worked and what could be done differently
Too often we think that providing tips and ideas is the same as influencing people and causing sweeping behaviour change. In reality, raising awareness is just the first step in a longer journey of behaviour change, but we can still help people on the way.
How have you positively influenced direct reports, peers, and managers?
Sarah Osteen is a Senior Consultant at Impact Americas.