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Empathisers can come last in negotiation

  • May 2nd, 2008

Fascinating negotiation research suggests that the ability to understand your counterparty’s objectives while pursuing your own is more useful than the ability to know how he/she is feeling. A blog comment on the Economist article sums it up

I guess Michael Corleone was right ” it’s not personal it’s just business.”

That’s a pity. On a long ago recruiter’s psych profile I apparently ranked high on empathy.

At least the report does not suggest that you can’t have empathy and analytical strength.


  • M Gordon
  • May 2nd, 2008
  • 1:37 pm

Looks like another useless study to me!

The study artificially separates empathy and perspective taking – they are not mutually exclusive. This leads to a dangerous conclusion that a perspective approach is better than an empathetic one.

Empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Perspective-taking is a subset of this – just the cognitive power to consider the world from someone else’s viewpoint (part of empathy).

What about all the negotations where high emotions block any kind of rational discussion. An empathetic negotiator might be able to address these first, clearing the way to dealing with the objectives.

Of course any study where you ask one group (this time labelled empathisers) to forget about objectives will lead to them failing. Common sense really.

[ I wondered whether the results were skewed by ’empathisers” finding it more difficult to presume on normal courtesies and reciprocities in what is obviously a ‘game’. In other words the study was measuring ruthlessness, not real world negotiation ability – SLF]

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