People often get empathy confused with sympathy. Sympathy occurs when you understand and care about the pain and suffering of another person. Empathy occurs when you genuinely feel what the other person feels, see what the other person sees and understand their worldview.
Sympathy is easy. Empathy is hard. With sympathy, you’re looking at the person from your shoes. With empathy, you’re looking out from the person standing in their shoes. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum, 180 degrees out of phase.
Empathy is an acquired skill, and there are tactics you can master to develop it as a habit. Two of my teachers are Chris Voss, CEO of The Black Swan Group, former lead FBI hostage negotiator and author of he book, Never Split the Difference, and Jesus. Chris explicitly teaches and Jesus implicitly uses field-tested tactical empathy techniques. Here are two that I am learning:
- Frame your question to get a “no” response instead of a “yes”.
- Make your statement to get a “that’s right” instead of a “you’re right”.
“No” Instead of “Yes”
Our society is addicted to yes-line of questioning. Consequently, we’ve evolved to suspect yeses lead to a trap. The objective of going for the no instead of the yes is to make the other person feel safe, protected and calm.
Challenge yourself to rephrase a question you want to ask to elicit a no response instead of a yes.
Here’s a example of when you’re trying to get someone’s time to speak.
Old habit: “Is now a good time to talk?” or “Do you have 5 minutes to talk about … ?“
Tip: Place a “Is it a ridiculous idea …” in front of your question.
New habit: “Is now a bad time to talk?” or “Is it a ridiculous idea for you to speak with me about … ?“
An example from the bible can be found in John 8:7-9. In those verses, Pharisees bring a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. Their intention was to trap him into enforcing Moses’ law that she be stoned to death, thereby accusing him of breaking the law of the Sabbath. However, Jesus did not fall for it, and he asked a question to elicit a no response from the Pharisees.
“Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her. Are any of you without sin,” Jesus asked?
What did the Pharisees do? They left one by one because the answer was “no“. This was the first step in Jesus’ successful negotiation.
“That’s Right” Instead of “You’re Right”
The objective of this technique is to establish a feeling of connection with the other person by focusing on their right not your right. Feel what they feel. See what they see. If you get a “you’re right”, they’re just saying, “shut up and go away”. If you get a “that’s right”, then you’ve established trust and you’re in dialog.
Tip: Place a “You sound …” or ” It sounds like …” or “It seems like …” in front of your statement.
New habit: “You sound frantic.” or “You sound determined.” or “It sounds like your family is really close.” or “It seems like your frustrated.“
Answer: “That’s right.”
Now, let’s go back to the bible in John 8:9-10 picking up where we left off. The Pharisees leave, and Jesus is left alone with woman.
“Where are they? There’s no one left to condemn you,” Jesus said.
“That’s right,” she said.
In that moment, Jesus was able to establish trust and connection with her. This was step two in Jesus’ successful negotiation.
He said just one more thing, “Well then, I do not condemn you either.“
The result? The woman felt forgiven, let go of her past, changed her behavior and lived a honorable life from that point forward.
Powerful stuff. This is how you change lives for the better.
Master tactical empathy and become addicted to “no” and “that’s right”. They are game changing habits.
- You’ll be more successful in your work because you’ll have an empathetic posture.
- You’ll feel better about your work because you’ll genuinely feel what the other person feels, see what the other person sees and understand their worldview.