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Andrea Kupfer Schneider & Noam Ebner
Editors’ Note: To be truly effective, negotiators must try to influence their counterparts not only through substantive offers, but also through engaging their attitudes and thinking patterns. This need has been analyzed (and, increasingly, taught) mostly in terms of empathy. Here, the authors suggest that empathy is separate from a broader construct, which they term social intuition. This skill, they contend, gives a negotiator the ability to have an impact on the entire negotiation interaction. It requires attention not only to developing empathy, but also nonverbal communication abilities, as well as several other elements. In an effort to make a difficult skill more accessible, they suggest dividing its learning into three elements, structured quite differently from previous discussions: understanding first the self, then the other, and then the elements of “bridging” between these two.
Two coauthors meet to discuss the lack of progress of their chapter. They are both stumped, perhaps a bit frustrated, and wondering who is going to take the next stab at finding something coherent to write. They find a park bench to sit on for their discussion. They both sit down and start to talk. While talking, one kicks off her shoes and then sits crisscross on the bench. Soon, both are sitting that way, leaning in excitedly over the joint outline, gesturing in turn. An observer might have noted that they both had a more curious and tentative tone at the beginning of the conversation and both have now shifted to a louder volume with more declarative sentences. Even though the rhythm of their conversation is much faster now, they both seem more in sync with each other. While one is speaking, the other seems to support her verbalizing process, wordlessly. What is going on here? Social intuition.
In negotiation, we know that our success in getting what we want from our counterpart has much to do with the way they feel about us. Do they trust us? Do they like us? [NDR: Guthrie, Getting Your Way] Do they empathize with us? Or, conversely, do they suspect our motives, or doubt our veracity? Do they dislike us, or otherwise feel that interacting with us is unpleasant? Do they find us difficult to relate to or empathize with, and easily attribute to us bad intentions or poor character?
Some of our capacity to affect others on issues of process and substance runs through the cognitive realms of interaction, discussed at length in other chapters of this book. Some of our capacity to affect others, however—perhaps much of it—runs through other channels. These channels provide the building blocks for many of the intangible, yet solidly important, elements that affect and control interactional patterns, overall strategic approach, and actual decision making. Core negotiation issues such as trust [NDR: Lewicki, Trust], relationship [NDR: Hollander-Blumoff, Relationships], rapport [NDR: Thompson et al., Nonverbal], and power are all conveyed through intuitive communication. Other issues that pertain to people’s ability and desire to work with one another, such as their perceived warmth, likability, and competency, are also affected by these elements. The degree to which one is adept at navigating this little-charted terrain is captured by the term social intuition.
Social Intuition: Empathy, Nonverbal Communication and More
Empathy has been discussed as a part of a negotiation skill set for over two decades. Robert Mnookin and his co-authors first brought this to the forefront in their article on the tension between assertiveness and empathy, noting that skilled negotiators need both (Mnookin, Peppet and Tulumello 2001; see also Fisher and Davis 1987). They expanded on this topic in Beyond Winning, and most professors soon adopted this into classrooms and textbooks (see e.g., Honeyman, Coben and De Palo 2010). However, usage of this term has generally been a bit fuzzy. In earlier articles, empathy is defined as understanding the other side...
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