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FBI Negotiation Techniques - Part 2 - Empathy

Tyler Hall

The goal of the FBI hostage negotiator is to, “work with the person in crisis towards a peaceful solution that previously seemed impossible.”

The FBI developed a 5 step model called the “Behavioural Change Stairway”. It is the basis applied  to heavily armed hostage and high stake negotiation situations, but can also be applied to any conflict faced.

The 5 steps are:

  1. Active Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Rapport
  4. Influence
  5. Behavioural Change

As specialists in negotiating we often observe people skipping steps 1-3 and starting at 4. It makes sense that we would start with “Influence” as we are trying to get our point of view across. If people were unemotional and completely rational, this would work. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we are not. People have feelings, ego, like to be affirmed and felt heard.

Let’s focus on improving step 2 - Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. By increasing empathy with the other party and trying to see the world from their point of view, you will have a greater chance of being able to influence them.

Techniques to increase empathy:

1. Label their feelings, priorities or concerns. The other party will know that you understand, therefore feel more supported and potentially disarmed.

“I can see how important this is to you.” 
“I understand that this can be frustrating.” 
“I know this process can be confusing.” 
“I’m sorry to see that you’re in this situation.” 
“I’d like to help you if I can.”
“Let’s see if we can solve this together.”

2. Put yourself in their shoes. When my little girl, Miss C, gets upset when I ask her to share some play equipment, I ask her to think about the child who is waiting and to imagine if that were her, “Wouldn’t you like to go on the swing if you had been waiting a while?”.  She understands and happily moves on.

Try to think about the other person’s situation: What are they getting out of this? What must it feel like to be under that deadline pressure? What face or political consequence is involved for them?

3. Validate them, but only if you mean it! People can discern authenticity.

“I get it.” 
“That makes sense.”
“Of course you feel that way”

Empathy is a skill that can be easily improved. It will help you to build rapport, influence others more effectively and improve your negotiating outcomes through more trusted relationships.

Stay tuned for Part 3. If you missed Part 1 on Active Listening you can find it here.

Happy relationship building,

Tyler Hall


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