ˈempəTHē/ noun, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Whether you’re a fan or not, no one can deny that television talk show host and multi-media mogul Oprah Winfrey does possess the singular skill that is the hallmark of all good leaders.
She’s even talked about it declaring, “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” It’s not surprising that she has been so successful, and that some have even encouraged her to run for President of the United States.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I feel strongly about the importance of empathy in negotiations. It is an attribute that sets exceptional leaders apart from the rest, and is integral to successful negotiations.
People like Oprah exhibit empathy. Perhaps it’s an innate quality in her and others. Either way, it’s an attribute that can be developed. To start, you need to understand the characteristics, mindsets and skills that embody an empathetic person. Then just like a samurai warrior, you must cultivate them within yourself.
Those who do so successfully meet their goals more consistently, foster stronger relationships and build better agreements. Honing this skill also results in more decisive action on their part. However, it isn’t just the individual that benefits. One’s entire team and organization will become more efficient and successful, both professionally and personally.
Think and Act Like the Leader You Want to Be
There’s a saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” I think it’s applicable to this subject as well. To return to the samurai analogy, the warrior must think like a true samurai as well as act (through his physical prowess and code of conduct) like one in order to become one. Absorbing the values, mindset and actions of an empathetic individual will increase the odds of becoming a well-respected, high-achieving leader as well as being aspirational to those around you.
Working with the right coach will ensure that the proper training tools are utilized to acquire the intrinsic characteristics and mindset. Most of us are more focused on what we’ll say next, rather than truly listening to what the other person is saying.
To become more empathic, you need to hone the following skills:
Be present and focused
Pose open-ended, exploratory questions
Get clarification, then reiterate your understanding of what’s been said
Remain cognizant of body language and what’s not been said, then consider them carefully
Recap what you’ve heard and your understanding of the other’s position/objectives/deal breakers
Those who exhibit empathy achieve an essential component of successful negotiations - rapport. When you’ve let the other side know that they’ve been heard and acknowledged, they’ll feel respected and safe. Typically, those feelings will enable them to open up further and share information on a more genuine and truthful level.
This relationship evolution opens the door to honest, transparent information sharing, which leads to better negotiations. Without that trust, you’re working off assumptions or misinformation rather than actual facts. The latter usually leads to compromises and negotiation failure.
Finally, it’s important to remember that these qualities alone won’t lead to a successful negotiation. You need to have the right system in place as well. Combine both and you’ll negotiate with the fearlessness of a samurai…or the warmth and authenticity of Oprah.
Tell me about your experiences. How has your empathetic nature served you well in business? How did someone else’s empathy get you to open up?