How do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes?

by | jul 21, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

negotiation skills for life

Last term, I taught two language modules at Saxion Hogeschool, one focusing on foundational skills in Business English and another on the advanced use of professional English, in the form of a business negotiation skills module.

The module had a hands-on approach and offered many opportunities to practice. Negotiation involves a whole host of core and supportive skills. You can use ChatGPT or other open AI resources to easily find out more about what is involved. The following skills in particular stood out for us as a group: Active Listening; Communication; Empathy; Problem-Solving; Research and also Body Language, which is a key skill when consciously applying it.

Some students found the first weeks tricky. As we worked our way through business cases, it became apparent that the scenarios were not always familiar to the students. As a result, it was difficult to identify with the required roles when working through the cases. We went back to the drawing table and took the following question as our starting point: how exactly do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? For some people, this is straight-forward or even second-nature. It does not require much pause for thought. For others, less so. So where do you begin? Here follows a quick break-down of some of the foundational skills linked to empathy as a competence.

Information, Shared Experiences & an open attitude

Information is key and research is the tool that helps acquire it. Therefore, with sufficient preparation time and the willingness to do some basic research your negotiation position is improved vastly. Research is a ‘formal’ way of obtaining information but research skills can be as simple as asking someone a question. Put this way, there is no need to overcomplicate matter. Effective negotiation skills start with having an open attitude: are you sufficiently interested in the other party to ask an open question?   

Once you have gathered an ample amount of information, it becomes possible to identify whether there are any commonalities in this frame of reference. Are there any shared experiences or motivations within this information landscape? Are they relatable? Or perhaps it has already become clear that common ground, that is, a shared interest exist. Empathy is the ‘ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation’. That imaginative act, however, can also involve some very concrete steps that anyone can undertake.

negotiations are everywhere…

On the one hand, negotiation might seem a very advanced skill that is limited to boardrooms and the international policy-making arena. Nothing could be further from the truth! Negotiation skills are applicable to our daily lives in many different ways. For those of you with kids, I needn’t have written this.. But also think of job interviews or any planning that involves more than one or two people. As a result, understanding the process of negotiation – simple and complex – is not only fascinating, but also a relevant and valuable life skill.  

The module I taught at Saxion was C41 Advanced Professional English and for those of you interested in negotiation, I would recommend Shaping the Game by Michael Watkins.

Lastly, I would like to thank my students for throwing themselves fully into this process. They have made incredible progress in just eight weeks time and in turn enabled me to learn an incredible amount.

This post has also been shared on my LinkedIn page English on Point.

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