Empathy: The Importance of Being Understanding
Not long ago, I received an email from a friend to help her frame a difficult conversation she needed to have with a colleague. The relationship had deteriorated for a variety of reasons but rested mainly on the fact that my friend felt like she was doing all the work and if she did not supervise or oversee what was being done, mistakes were being made.
I do understand where she was coming from and she was justified in her frustrations and to her credit she had written down all the points she wanted to make. Although she had tried her hardest, the one thing she had not completely got rid of was her own emotions. We had sat down and had a chat about the real issues but because of all the anger and exasperation she was feeling, she couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Once we started to take all the emotion out and begun reframing her conversation in a very objective manner, the solutions became apparent and although the whole situation needed to be discussed by both, she could see a clear path forward.
This led me to think about all the times where I have had to negotiate in business conversations and remain calm. When I owned my optometrist business, the first thing we trained our optical assistants to do was on how to address complaints.
When someone is complaining and upset, they are not unhappy with you personally, they are feeling powerless and want to change the situation.
Our first instruction to them was to sympathise and acknowledge that something had gone wrong even if they did not believe it. The point was to bring the conversation back into the realms of discussion, and not confrontation. Your tone of voice and body language begins to impact the direction and mood of the narrative to come. If you are being empathetic there is absolutely no reason for someone to shout at you. If you are agreeing with them, then they don’t need to prepare themselves for a fight.
Being empathetic with someone does not mean that you have to agree with them. It means that you acknowledge their position and their feelings on the matter.
When I am negotiating with business owners, I understand that they are very attached to the businesses they have founded and grown. They have a vested interest in a favourable outcome and so they should be. Now, I may not always agree with their position, but I know that we cannot get to a point where we are both happy if we cannot even agree on the starting line. It is my job to stay objective but keep what they want as an end result is always at the forefront of my mind.
I have sold businesses and I know what it felt like when a party I was engaged with started finding excuses to bring down the price. Some of the reasons were valid but they wanted to only deal with worst case scenarios; they were only happy to listen to their own expert and not the other two that were on the panel. They wanted everything their own way. I am afraid I was very rude and walked away from that deal.
Six months later, we engaged with a different buyer for the same business and with the same issues, but the attitude and engagement were a world apart. We discussed all the problems, found solutions together, and although concessions were made on both sides, the deal was conducted with mutual respect and empathy. We found positive solutions for all the negative problems. I will always keep in touch with this buyer but I have no time for and will not do business with the first one ever again.
I truly believe that that by actually listening, not just hearing but listening, to what a business owner wants and trying to address all their concerns and find an equitable solution results in easier and more pleasant discussions about the sale of a business. It becomes about compromise and cooperation rather than conflict and disagreement. To paraphrase Chris Voss, you need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
If you are looking at selling your business or want to plan an exit Contact Me. I will listen to you and the outcome you are looking for and see what I can do to provide you with an exit that you are truly happy with.