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60-Second Mind

In Negotiations, If You Feel Your Opponents' Pain, It May Be Their Gain

Crucial in any successful negotiation is an accurate understanding of each side's motivations and needs. And although understanding another's needs involves the talent to empathize, research from the journal Psychological Science reveals that feeling another's emotions can be a deal breaker.

Podcast Transcript:  Let's talk about the psychological art of negotiation. 

At root is the concept of the "win–win" strategy, the idea that any deal can be structured in such a way where both parties walk away thinking they profited. 

Crucial for a win–win is access to the other party's motivations, intentions, fears, etcetera. And the talent to know another's perspective is thought of as the ability to empathize—to stand in their shoes and feel what they feel. 

But research published in the April issue of Psychological Science tells a cautionary tale. Researchers found that empathizing with your opponent can wreck the deal. 

152 business students had to negotiate the purchase of an impossibly high-priced gas station. One group was asked to imagine what the seller was thinking, and the other had to get in touch with what the seller was feeling

The scientists found that whereas the empathetic group achieved the highest level of seller satisfaction, the more calculating group secured the greatest number of deals. 

So take heed: get inside the other's head, but don't get so close that you start feeling their pain, lest you appease them to make them happy, then leave the table having lost not only the deal, but emotional energy, too. 

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