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How to Gain Trust Using Tactical Empathy

In Order to Persuade Them, Don't Feel Their Pain, Label It


This week’s post is yet another dive into content from Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference. I want to make it clear that his book is directly focused on helping people become better negotiators, but my focus is on translating these skills into every day situations that you will face such as persuading colleague’s in meetings.


This post is building directly on top of the tactics covered in the previous two posts, How to Become the Smartest Person in Any Room and How to Quickly Establish Rapport With Anyone. If you haven’t read these posts yet, I highly suggest that you check them out first to gain the most from this post.



Gaining Empathy With Labels - Labeling Emotions


Situations where trying to see eye-to-eye with someone in order to come to an agreement can be tricky, especially when both parties hold strong opinions that differ. How can we convince them to see the problem as we do?


The standard method is to use brute force. I can hear the words of my dad telling me to do my chores as a kid, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you” when I tried to put them off until later like it was yesterday.


It is natural for us to want to tell someone what to do instead of listen to what they have to say in these situations, because we naturally feel as if we are right. It’s simply human nature. Needless to say, this brute force tactic is generally met with brute force from the other party, causing us to butt heads and ultimately keeping the situation in gridlock. Let’s look at it from a different angle.


If we want to be able to influence someone, we need to identify their emotions. We can do this by using phrases like “it seems like you…” and “it looks like you…”, which are followed by labels of their emotions or thoughts. It’s not about being nice or agreeing, we’re simply trying to understand what makes sense to them. After labeling their emotions or thoughts, we should really pay attention to our colleague’s gestures, tone of voice, and face.


Actively listening to our counter party, let’s say our colleague in a meeting for example, will allow us to put ourselves in their shoes. If we can attempt to understand where they’re coming from, we can put a label on how they’re feeling.


Labeling allows us to verify their emotions and thoughts by acknowledging them. It exposes any fears that they may have of taking an alternative route to a solution, and helps them transition from emotional thoughts driven by System 1 thinking to logical, rational thinking driven by System 2 thinking.


Putting ourselves in their shoes is key. If they feel understood, they will be much more open to new ideas. Where I see most people go wrong, though, is that they try to gain empathy but then immediately make it about themselves by using “I think…” which causes their colleague to feel like you’re telling them, and not asking them.


Accusation Audit - Laying it All on the Line


Voss introduces the concept of an “accusation audit.” This is critical to reaching a solution in the trickiest of cases. Getting our colleague to feel like we can take a walk in their shoes is critical, but it is only half of the equation when they feel that they are still right, or don’t yet feel comfortable to make a change.


An accusation audit consists of listing all of the negative things that your colleague could say about your potential solution. In theory, our solutions are without flaw. But in the real world, everything has tradeoffs. By listing these tradeoffs before our colleague has a chance to bring them up we are able to show them that we truly understand the big picture.


Voss uses the term “accusation” because he is a hostage negotiator. In the business world, no one is really making personal accusations like a terrorist would do in a hostage situation, such as “you’re going to kill me if I come out of hiding,” so for our business situations we can think of it more as a tradeoff audit.


Executing a tradeoff audit is much easier said than done, and requires a deep understanding of the problem you are working on. We can almost never think of every edge case by ourselves, which is exactly why we brainstorm and work in teams, so it is not so important if we miss an edge case or two while preparing the audit. The overarching goal is to use an approach that will ultimately lead to better team collaboration.


In the next edition I will walk you through a real life example of how I helped a client put these principals into play when she was faced with the task of convincing her colleague to take an alternative approach to coming up with a solution.

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