(Photo credit to CMOE)

Tactical Empathy s a term coined by an ex-FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss (his book Never Split The Difference is a must).

In Chris’ nomenclature, tactical empathy refers to…

“The deliberate influencing of your negotiating counterpart’s emotions for the ultimate purpose of building trust-based influence and securing deals.”

The obvious use case here is negotiation.

But tactical empathy can be used powerfully also when coaching.

When deployed correctly, tactical empathy can forge a connection between you and your client which heightens trust and openness—ultimately making your client more receptive to change.

So how do you deploy tactical empathy?

There are six main elements.

Each element is effective individually, but the effectiveness compounds when they’re combined.

1—Dynamic Silence:

This is about having the courage to stay silent, hold space and wait for your client to talk.

Pauses always feel long and awkward, but adding follow up questions too early or breaking the silence can block your client from having the breakthrough insights that emerge out of silence.

As a simple rule of thumb—whenever you ask a big, open-ended question, stay silent. The likelihood of your client arriving at a breakthrough will increase.

2—Minimal Encouragements:

Simple but effective. These are your nodding and little yes/yeah/aha noises.

They show your client that you are paying attention and encourage deeper sharing.


This involves repeating the last few words your client says, back to your client.

It’s remarkably powerful for building rapport and releasing Oxytocin.

Oxytocin is that trust-building neurochemical hormone.


This is a step up from mirroring.

Instead of just repeating back, you are putting forward your hypothesis about how your client is feeling.

Based on your knowledge, observations, and empathy, you will label what they are feeling, e.g. joy, anger, fear.

This could look like: “It sounds like you’re handling a lot of fear when it comes to that.”


This technique is also related to mirroring.

But instead of repeating back your client’s words, you are using your own words to repeat back their statement.

This can be a powerful way to help your client “externalize” and reach a perspective their currently blocked from.


This is a combination of mirroring, labeling and paraphrasing.

In your own words, you vocalize the crucial point in everything that has been said by your client.

If you get a “that’s right!” from your client, it’s likely that you’ve helped them crystallize a new insight or understanding.

The blended usage of these techniques is tactical empathy.

So next time you’re interacting with a client, layer these in and watch as your client blossoms open.

If you are interested more in learning how to use tactical empathy for having resonating interactions with your clients, just reach me out sending an email to: giannecchinimarco@googlemail.com

Marco Giannecchini, MD