Do You Get It?

Puzzle head brain concept as a human face profile made from crumpled white paper with a jigsaw piece cut out on a rustic old wood background as a mental health symbol..jpegAt the Black Swan Group, our instructors have been spreading the gospel of empathy and the techniques used to demonstrate it for years. We have trained thousands of people all over the globe on how to apply techniques developed in the world of hostage negotiations to business and other personal interactions. Of those thousands, as an instructor, I wonder at times how many don’t get it? 

We do our best to convey the material and provide adequate time for practical application, but as for the answer to the question, sometimes you don’t know until you know. Sure, former students will reach out to us from time to time and describe how they used this or that technique but rarely are we in the position to witness it.


Last week, the opportunity presented itself. I was assisting my eldest daughter with her apartment search. In doing so, I solicited the help of a friend who is a real estate agent and one of my (former) hostage negotiators and trainees. I knew her ability as a cop and had heard of her successes in real estate. She was one of the best negotiators on my team. Anytime you see someone put into action the techniques that you taught them, and they have the desired effect, as an instructor, there is nothing better.


The potential landlord for this property mentioned to the realtor and me as we inspected the apartment (my daughter had yet to arrive) that she has never had a lease longer than three months.

“Three months?” the realtor mirrored with an upward inflection.

“Yes, three months. Most of the tenants I rent to are med students who are not here long. I have grown used having it vacant a few times a year for friends and family, plus if it doesn’t work out with a tenant, it is short-lived,”

“Short-lived?” mirrored the realtor. 

“Yes, since I don’t go through ordinary channels to find tenants, I have to make sure they are a good fit. I may be able to make an exception, but I don’t know.”


My daughter arrived and was given the tour. The landlord liked my daughter. It was apparent as they moved through the apartment. My kid said she liked it, so the realtor summarized the previous discussion. As the landlord repeated her hesitation at leasing for longer than three- months, the realtor continued the summary and then hit her with a brilliant label.

“Sounds like you are just looking for some protection for yourself.”

The landlord replied, “That’s it, exactly” and just like that, the talk of the three-month lease disappeared. She agreed to provide my daughter with a 12-month lease.


This interaction validates the Black Swan method. No surprise. I know our techniques work, but validation feeds my ego. Nor was I surprised that the realtor was successful in getting us what we wanted and making the landlord feel good about it. This protégé is as gifted as they come at influencing people with her communications skills. She has embraced tactical empathy and wields it like a surgeon with a scalpel and continues to demonstrate that she gets it.

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August 18, Washington DC, Negotiation Seminar