"If you use empathy as a tactic, it may work at the time, but if they see it later as being insincere, it will backfire and they will see you as manipulative and untrustworthy."
Q&A with Todd Camp, Owner and Chief Negotiation Officer at Camp Systems
Todd Camp is the owner and chief negotiation officer of Camp Systems. The company has been featured on CNN, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., and others. He is also co-founder and partner of The Pareto Group, a negotiation coaching firm that provides services to co-founders and executives of venture-backed startups. Todd is the co-author of the book "No, The Only System of Negotiation You Need For Work and Home" and has delivered live coaching sessions throughout Canada, the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. He recently participated as a speaker and sponsor at the Negotiation Leadership Conference at Harvard University presented by the Harvard Alumni Association.
In your expertise, what are the fundamental steps to leveraging negotiation as a tool for strengthening professional relationships?
Provide a safe environment for the negotiations to take place. What I mean by that is be respectful and really try to understand what the other party is trying to solve for. We have something called Mission and Purpose (M&P). M&P answers two questions: What does the other party want us to provide and how do they want us to provide it (that is 100% in their world to their benefit)? Spend time in their world understanding what challenges they are trying to solve for, or what opportunity they are trying to secure. Put your interests on the back burner until you have M&P understood and confirmed by the other party. Also, extend to the other party the right to veto/reject. Let them know a "No" or pushback is always perfectly acceptable. They should feel confident and comfortable bringing problems they see with what we are asking them to agree to.
Can you describe a situation where demonstrating empathy during a negotiation led to a successful outcome that benefited all parties involved?
Empathy can help people feel comfortable, safe and reassured they are being listened to. It goes without saying and should always be there in situations. However, it is nowhere as close to as important as having a very clear and agreed to Mission and Purpose statement. They need to see and discover that you're making decisions throughout the negotiation process.
Example: We were in an M&A negotiation and one of our CEO's had an investor who was threatening to block the deal. For that reason, we were in a position where we were going to have re-trade and to ask the other CEO for more cash consideration in the deal to cover the investor's interest so that they made money from the transaction.
Our CEO's banker told them to bluff and say we had another term-sheet/competing bid that had come in and that they would have to do better to keep the deal. We believed this strategy was a terrible idea because it was high risk. There was a chance the acquiring CEO would see this as a bluff and would not like that kind of a tactic being used and could potentially kill the deal.
Instead we asked what we could do that supported our mission and purpose, which was in the world of the acquiring company. The answer we came to was to find the most effective way to tell the truth. So we instructed our CEO to tell his counterpart what was going on and that we had a challenge we're trying to solve for. By telling the truth, the other CEO felt respected and decided (without us even asking for it) to raise their price by $10M. This solved the problem and was low risk because we already had a relationship built of respect and trust.
How does empathy enhance the negotiation process, and what strategies can professionals adopt to genuinely integrate empathy into their negotiation tactics?
Again, empathy is a short-term behaviour that should be enhanced with something much more powerful, which is Mission and Purpose. If you're truly trying to solve the problems or challenges the other side is dealing with, they will see the sincerity and resolve you are demonstrating to benefit them. This is a guiding principle in our system and is far greater than using a tactic.
From your perspective, how does an empathy-based approach shift the definition of success in negotiations beyond just financial gains?
Most negotiators equate successful negotiation as getting everything they want or giving up as little as possible to get a deal done. We feel this is shortsighted and not the type of negotiating style that is responsible for building strong long-term business relationships. People ask us all the time, "How do you know you made a good deal? How do you define a successful negotiation?" That is simple—a successful negotiation is an agreement that allows us to deliver everything we signed up and committed to delivering. If you're able to hold up your end of the deal, the other side will respect you, they will see you as highly effective, and they will trust you will do the same in the future because you truly have their interests in mind.
What role does empathy play in building trust and rapport during negotiations, and how can negotiators balance this with the need to achieve their objectives?
See above. In terms of your wants and objectives, it's simple. Once the other party has made it clear what they want you to deliver and how they want you to deliver it, you should ask for everything you require in order to do so. Don't be afraid to ask. You have the right to ask for it, and they have the right to reject. If they can reject, think about the psychology of that decision. What does the other party need to discover as to how their decision impacts the benefits of everything they are asking to receive? If you can't deliver, it only will hurt them in the end because you'll fall short of their expectations and have even more difficult negotiations to come down the line in the future.
Could you share your insights on any common misconceptions about empathy in the business world, particularly regarding its place and power in negotiations?
People trick themselves into thinking short bursts of empathy are enough and they are not. If you use empathy as a tactic, it may work at the time, but if they see it later as being insincere, it will backfire and they will see you as manipulative and untrustworthy. Even when negotiating with contentious/aggressive negotiators who like to use power and leverage to squeeze you into a bad deal, showing empathy is not enough. With these types of personalities, you're much better armed to have a valid mission and purpose that is in their world to their benefit.
That and understand you have the right to veto. Your authority in negotiation does not come from your balance sheet. It comes from your right and ability to push back and decline what the other side is asking you to agree to. The ability to say, "I'm sorry but we must respectfully reject that. If we were to agree to it, our Mission and Purpose would be put at risk and what you're expecting to receive from our side will be something different than what you have said you want. For that reason we can't move forward." Your ability to do this in extreme situations in very important negotiations will make the difference between becoming a decent negotiator vs. accomplishing things you did not know were attainable.