1: The experienced fundraiser was perplexed.  

A fundraising executive with the Girl Scouts, she had developed a successful system to connect with donors.  “She’d invite a potential donor to her office, serve a few Girl Scouts cookies, walk her through an album of heartwarming snapshots and handwritten letters from projects that matched the [donor’s] profile, and then collect a check when the donor’s eyes lit up,” Chris Voss writes in Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

Donors often gave upwards of $25,000.  

Not today.

The immovable donor shook her head each time the fundraiser shared a project the research indicated would appeal to the donor.

No.  Nope.  Not interested.

“I want my gift to directly support programming for Girl Scouts and not anything else,” the donor stated.

The fundraiser shared several additional projects which met the donor’s criteria.  

More rejection.

Then, the executive remembered a lesson from the negotiating class she had taken with Chris at Georgetown University.

“I’m sensing some hesitation with these projects,” she said calmly.

She was “labeling” or naming the woman’s fears.  

The fundraiser continued: “It seems that you are really passionate about this gift and want to find the right project reflecting the opportunities and life-changing experiences the Girl Scouts gave you.”

There was a moment of silence.

“You understand me,” the donor said.  “I trust you’ll find the right project.”

With that, she signed a check without even selecting a specific project.

“Fear of her money being misappropriated was the presenting dynamic that the first label uncovered,” Chris writes.  “But the second label uncovered the underlying dynamic—her very presence in the office was driven by very specific memories of being a little Girl Scout and how it changed her life.”

2: The real obstacle wasn’t finding the right project.  

“The real obstacle was that this woman needed to feel that she was understood,” Chris notes, “that the person handling her money knew why she was in that office and understood the memories that were driving her actions.”

Which is why labels are so powerful.  

“By digging beneath what seems like a mountain of quibbles, details, and logistics,” Chris writes, “labels help us uncover and identify the primary emotions driving almost all of our counterparts’s behavior, the emotion that, once acknowledged, seems to miraculously solve everything else.”

When we label our fears, we move from the part of our brain which reacts to threats, the amygdala, to the part of our brain that drives logical thinking, the prefrontal cortex.

“Empathy is a powerful mood enhancer,” Chris notes.  “These labels are so powerful because they bathe the fears in sunlight, bleaching them of their power and showing our counterpart that we understand,” Chris notes.  

3: That said, we must also be patient.  “The road is not always cleared so easily, so don’t be demoralized if this process seems to go slowly,” he writes.  “Many of us wear fears upon fears, like layers against the cold, so getting to safety takes time.”

More tomorrow!


Action:  Strike up a conversation today and label one of the other person’s emotions.  

Reflection: What happens?

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