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  • Daniel Stern Serviansky

Empathy and Assertiveness

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

{3 minutes to read} One of the goals that we often have when we start to negotiate is for the other party to like us. Of course, we also have other goals: there is something we want to get from them, or we want to convince them of something. But rarely do we hear about someone meeting for a negotiation, particularly in a deal-making context, without the goal of being liked and establishing some sort of interpersonal connection.

People who have not studied negotiation often attempt to trade value for being liked. They think: "I could ask for this much money or this much value in goods or services, but I want to ask for less because I don't want to be aggressive and I want the other side to like me."

Based on my experience and on the work of my mentor, Carol Liebman, I want to suggest that it is perfectly possible to be strong in what you want and also to be liked. The key is in three things:

  1. drawing a distinction between aggressiveness and assertiveness;

  2. expressing empathy; and

  3. using measurements beyond dollars (or whatever you are negotiating for).

The first point, aggressiveness v. assertiveness, follows from the observation that it is possible to be quite straight-forward in what you need without being rude, insulting, or aggressive in any way. You simply make a clear and polite statement of what you need in order to reach a deal. (For the theory behind empathy and assertiveness, see the Thomas-Kilman Instrument and Bob Mnookin’s Beyond Winning.)

Now, if you feel yourself wanting to give in and not make a clear and strong statement of what you want (because you want to be liked), do the following instead: go on to the next two items above; stop thinking about the dollars involved for a moment and instead think about showing empathy and listening to the other side (Liebman 2005).

  • Ask them to tell the story from their perspective.

  • Listen carefully and show you are attentive.

  • Repeat parts of what they said so they feel heard.

You will get two benefits from this. First, you will get a lot of good information. Second, and more importantly, the other person will get a good feeling. They will see you (correctly) as someone who cares about their point of view, and they will be more inclined to like you and to give you what you want.

Remember, if you are thinking of giving-in on your needs, switch to using empathy and listening skills in order to be liked. Using this strategy, you can both be liked and get what you want.

Daniel Serviansky


(212) 655-9793



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