On 13 January 2021 CEIA’s Director Matt Waldman delivered an address to the wider network of the Negotiation Strategies Institute on the critical role of empathy in advanced negotiations.  

In his presentation Waldman argued that great judgement lies behind mastery of negotiations. For such judgement, he says, we need to understand human beings both in general and in specific contexts. Negotiators need to understand who people really are, what they think, feel and perceive, what matters to them, what they want, and why they behave as they do. To acquire that understanding, we need to overcome our own singular perspective on events and the biases that distort our thinking, as well as potentially heightened emotions. And to do that, we need empathy. 

Empathy, Waldman explains, is distinct from sympathy and does not require the sharing of feelings. Research shows empathy can be practised at will and that with guidance and self-reflection, we can enhance our empathy skills. Empathising, he says, requires knowledge and imagination. Indeed, empathy is unique in social skills in requiring imagination. As such, it can help us to overcome biases which are all connected to our own frame of reference. Empathy invites us to enter into the minds of others precisely when – during conflict – we are least likely to do so. But empathy does not stop with imagination. It requires direct engagement, curiosity, questioning and listening.

Empathy is often seen as soft, sentimental and peripheral to negotiations. Quite the contract, Waldman argues. It is immensely hard, and entirely rational: it strengthens our understanding of others and our ability to negotiate with them. It is essential for avoiding the costly implications of bad judgement.   

Please contact CEIA if you would like more information about Waldman’s presentation.