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How to Use Empathy to Negotiate: 3 Types of Empathy

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Humans’ emotional intelligence and ability to show empathy are what allow us to forge complex connections on both interpersonal and societal levels. Learning about the different forms of empathy and social intelligence can help you better understand the decision-making process and motives of the people around you. For anyone in business, applying basic social psychology and learning how to be strategically empathetic can pay dividends over the course of a negotiation.



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What Is Empathy?

The definition of empathy is the process of intuitively relating to another person’s emotional state and/or mirroring their feelings. People who have empathic abilities are not practicing mind-reading but rather are picking up on people’s emotions and inner feelings by paying close attention to their emotional responses and listening carefully to what they say. There are several different types of empathy that cover the ways people understand others’ mental states and process them.

Understanding the 3 Types of Empathy

There are several different ways that humans process the emotions of others and demonstrate affective empathy. Mental health professionals categorize an empathetic response as falling into one of three different categories:

  1. Cognitive empathy: Cognitive empathy is a form of empathy that is less about sharing a person’s emotions and more about understanding that person’s thoughts and point of view. Cognitive empathy is occasionally referred to as “perspective-taking” and mainly involves placing yourself in a person’s shoes to understand their thought process and motives—more so than whatever emotional experience they’re going through. Cognitive therapy involves a highly logical kind of empathy.
  2. Emotional empathy: Sometimes referred to as “emotional contagion” or “personal distress,” emotional empathy involves directly mirroring and taking on someone’s emotional state and having it impact your own feelings on a deeper level. Especially when compared to cognitive empathy, emotional empathy is a less rational example of empathy. Emotional empathy can come into play when a close loved one is experiencing negative emotions. Having a high level of empathy in this category is a double-edged sword because it allows you to be highly attuned and sensitive to the well-being of another human being but can also lead you to lose control over your own emotions.
  3. Compassionate empathy: A third type of empathizing falls under the category of compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is what people are generally referring to when they talk about empathizing in a colloquial sense. This form of empathy involves emotionally relating to someone’s emotional pain and rationally seeking to help remedy it.
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How to Negotiate Using Empathy

The way that we define empathy as it relates to negotiation is closest to cognitive empathy. In a business negotiation, the type of empathy you want to possess has less to do with empathic concern and much more to do with understanding another person’s end goals. If you can assess your negotiating partner’s feelings and emotional state, you can use that information for tactical purposes. Here are some tips for how to employ empathy in business negotiations:

  • Listen carefully. Actively listen to everything your negotiating partner says. Allow them to open up as much as possible. Look for physical and vocal cues that can help you better understand their experience. Information is key in business negotiations, and allowing someone to speak freely can also build trust.
  • Adopt a relaxed body language. Having a relaxed posture and neutral facial expressions can breed comfort in your negotiating partner. Stay conscious of your body language and try to avoid becoming closed off.
  • Respond directly to what you are hearing. An important part of all social interactions is taking in what someone is saying and letting them know they are being heard by providing a relevant response. In negotiations, responding directly to what is being said to you will show the person you are negotiating with that their words are not falling on deaf ears and that you understand their experience.
  • Find common ground. Practicing cognitive empathy during a business negotiation may lead you to draw a connection between what your negotiating partner is expressing and a similar situation from your own life. Build common ground by relating to the other person’s perspective and reinforcing any emotional connection that develops over the course of a negotiation.


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