Have you ever entered into a negotiation or tried to resolve a conflict and not been sure where to begin or what to do? Do you wish that you knew what the other person was thinking so you knew the right thing to say? You might not be able to read the other person’s mind, but by employing a little empathy you can gain some valuable insight to help you be more effective.
In the popular Boyatzis and Goleman model of emotional intelligence, empathy falls within the social awareness quadrant.
EMPATHY= the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
Empathy is as close to a super power as any of us will have. Empathy gives you insight into others, and there is no better super power in navigating the game of life. Whether you are negotiating for your first home purchase, or attempting to resolve a conflict with your colleague, understanding the feelings of another person will give you the insight you need to be more effective.
Communication is the key (to everything).
If you are an effective communicator, you have the keys to the universe. Whether you are speaking to an individual or a crowd, being able to ‘read’ and interpret the clues of how people are reacting to you provides a map to how to navigate and therefore how to best communicate.
Think of the last time you were involved with a conflict that turned out to be successful. (Yes, conflict can be a very good thing.) Was it successful because you communicated well with the other person, investigated the other person’s position and tried to find common ground? If things turned out well, it is likely that is what occurred, at least in part.
William Ury outlines some guidelines for successful conflict resolution and negotiation in his best seller, Getting to Yes.
Tips from Getting to Yes:
- Separate the people from the problem;
- Focus on interests, not positions;
- Learn to manage emotions;
- Express appreciation;
- Put a positive spin on your message;
- Escape the cycle of action and reaction.
Successful conflict management and negotiation begins with exercising your empathy muscle. How can you find out what the other person’s motivations are? Start with open communication and active listening: ask questions, read between the lines—does what the person is saying match up with their body language? What clues can you pick up through paying attention to the other person’s tone, intonation, and what isn’t said?
Don’t Show your Hand:
While you don’t want to show your hand initially in a negotiation, you should be working toward an open dialogue. Seek to find out who is on the other side—are there supportive outside parties that are ultimately contributing to the negotiation. For example, if you are buying a used car, you need to explore if the person has a significant other who might not be directly involved in the negotiation, but has a significant influence over what the other person might be thinking.
Focus on the problem, not the person:
The first rule(s) of any conflict resolution or negotiation is to focus on what is really going on, not letting the person or any personal experiences, bias or past history get in the way of what is really important. If you have a conflict with a co-worker, focusing on what has happened that didn’t go well in the past will never help you resolve a conflict today. Rather you should focus on what your goals are, what the other person’s goals are and how you can meet in the middle.
Don’t let your emotions drive you:
Emotions are inevitable as they are the basis of the most instinctual part of our brain. Learning to understand and manage your emotions is the key to success, both personally and professionally. If you don’t recognize how your emotions are impacting your judgment and decision-making, you will fall prey to them instead of using them to your advantage.
Establish trust early:
Gaining good favor and establishing trust is key to any interpersonal relationship, and this holds true even for fleeting relationships. Expressing appreciation by extending an olive branch goes far in coming to resolution in conflict and negotiation. Give concessions to the other person in the form of issues that are not (as) important to you, and express appreciation for what the other person offers, as well.
You get what you give:
Positive attitude may be the best thing you can bring to any situation. While we need a little bit of the negative to keep us on track, the research overwhelmingly shows that there is a correlation between positivity with all types of measures of success. No one wants to deal with a negative person—we are constantly giving and receiving from one another and if you wish for a positive outcome, start with how you approach the situation.
Respond don’t react:
If you remember one thing, remember to always seek to respond, not react. Responding implies conscious thought and decision-making in interpretation and action, while a reaction is without thought. When your colleague says something you interpret as insulting, a response occurs when you recognize your anger reaction, but pause and consider the situation before deciding what to say or do.
Why do we struggle with utilizing empathy to improve our interactions with others?
Quite often we get bogged down in the details of our roles, the in and outs of each day and fail to focus on what is going on. Being mindful means actively being present in the moment and recognizing our own thoughts and emotions, as well as those of others. Mindlessness occurs when we become myopic in pursuit of our goals.
To be at our best, we need to be consciously managing ourselves which can be difficult while we attempt to accomplish all of the day to day tasks we need to get done. Taking breaks and recognizing our feelings and what may be affecting us, and our judgment is the first step in being more emotionally intelligent and prepared for whatever life may throw at us.
Joann Farrell Quinn, PhD is a Strategic Alliances faculty member.