Apr 03, 2021

Don’t feel their pain, label it

I’m posting again about something I read in Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. I’m learning a lot of new ideas from this book so I’m just going to keep them coming!

Today’s post is about labeling the emotions of a person you are negotiating with as a form of tactical empathy. When you label someone’s emotion, it says that you identify how they are feeling and in doing so, that person will feel closer to you. 

So how does it work? Here’s a simple example: if someone seems to be expressing frustration about something, you should label that feeling by saying, “It sounds like you’re frustrated that…”

The first part of the phrasing is important. You should start the statement with something along the lines of “it sounds like…” or “it seems as if…” for labeling your counterpart’s emotions. 

An alternative way of expressing the same statement above would be to say, “I feel like you’re frustrated that…” but this is a bad way of phrasing it. In particular, it is best to avoid the usage of the pronoun “I”. The word “I” gets people’s guard up. When you say “I”, it says you’re more interested in yourself than the other person.

This tactic is most useful to calm somebody in a tense situation, such as a negotiation. Labeling and identifying their negative emotions makes them less scary and leads to more productive interactions.