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Empathy

Empathy is merely the process of understanding what the other side is thinking or feeling. In terms of persuasion, it can be used to make the other side feel understood and disarm them due to this.

Empathy is a great technique to use, in specific, when the other side is emotional – when they have high amygdala activation (when the person is angry, in denial, in a crisis, or similar). In these cases, people create a conflict, which can usually be diagnosed as being one of two typeshot or cold:

  • Hot conflicts are when the person is aggressive, intimidating or similar, and empathy helps ramp them down;
  • Cold conflicts are when the person is withdrawing, not communicating, keeping things to themselves, and empathy helps them be more transparent;

Underlying Psychology/Biases

Empathy works by decreasing amygdala activation. The amygdala, known as our “reptilian brain”, is activated when we are in situations of great distress or trust. And while in that state, people will not be logical. Empathy helps decrease its activation and bring the person back to the realm of logic.

Sub-Techniques

There are many different methods to use and apply empathy. For persuasion purposes, the key one is:

  • Statements of Empathy
    • Simply using short statements such as, “I understand you must be thinking/feeling [ABC]”;
    • This can be used to verbalize fears, frustrations, emotions and more;
      • “I understand you must be feeling frustrated because the process is taking too long, right?”;
      • “I understand you must be thinking our team doesn’t have it all together due to how we handled this, correct?”;
    • There are usually three major types that you can leverage:
      • Verbalizing what they are thinking or feeling;
        • “I know you must be feeling sad with this situation, right”;
      • Verbalizing the specific type of situation;
        • “I know this is a frustrating negotiation, right?”;
      • Verbalizing what you would do in their shoes;
        • “I know you’re skeptical. If I were you, I would be as well”;

Examples

  • HR
    • Whenever you have a problem in your company and present it to HR, the first thing they will communicate is “I understand”, or “This must be hard”, or similar;
  • Customer support
    • CS agents are trained to use empathy to disarm angry customers. “I understand this must be upsetting”, and so on;
  • Hostage negotiations
    • One of the top negotiators leveraging empathy is Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator. He would use “Tactical empathy” to make terrorists feel heard… and then make them capitulate;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Empathy is merely showing you understand what the other side is going through. Putting yourself in their shoes. This builds trust and disarms the person;
  • Empathy can be leveraged in multiple methods, but statements of empathy are the quickest and easiest way to leverage it;
  • Empathy is very effective for situations when people are emotional, which will either create a hot or a cold conflict. Empathy helps with both;
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