Is “Emotional Intelligence” An Important Negotiating Skill?

Just how important is emotional intelligence when negotiating?
Just how important is emotional intelligence when negotiating?
Image Credit: Furtherfield Gallery

One of the more popular phrases that has been used during the past few years has been “emotional intelligence”. This term first burst into the cultural imagination in 1995 with the publication of psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book. Negotiation experts have predicted that scoring high on this personality trait would boost one’s negotiating outcomes and have found many successful negotiation examples using emotional intelligence. Does this mean that during your next negotiation you need to pay more attention to your emotional intelligence?

Is Emotional Intelligence A Required Negotiating Skill?

Before we can evaluate if emotional intelligence can play a role in our next negotiation, we need to make sure that we have a good understanding of just exactly what it is. If we look it up, it turns out that Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s). Clearly this can play a role in a negotiation.

It only takes a small amount of study to realize that the qualities that characterize emotional intelligence—awareness of our emotions and how they affect others, the ability to regulate our moods and behavior, empathy, the motivation to meet meaningful personal goals, and strong social skills—seem as if they’d help us get what we want from others and find common ground no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. Very quickly we can start to understand that if we can somehow find a way to add emotional intelligence to our skill set, then we should be able to position ourselves as a successful negotiator.

Emotional intelligence has been studied for years. What the researchers have been trying to determine is if emotional intelligence correlates with beneficial negotiation outcomes, in particular trust building, the desire to work together in the future, and joint gain. Clearly the thinking has been that if we bring our emotional intelligence to the negotiating table, then we should be able to do a better job of connecting with the other side and therefor be able to get a better deal for ourselves.

How Can Emotional Intelligence Benefit You?

Researchers who have been studying the role that emotional intelligence can play in a negotiation have been starting their studies by measuring the emotional intelligence of each of the subjects being studied. The subjects then engaged in a negotiation. The researchers assigned points to various outcomes and so the relative success of each negotiator could be measured. Participants with higher levels of emotional intelligence were associated with greater rapport within pairs of negotiators. Strong rapport in turn nurtured trust in one’s counterpart and a willingness to work with the other party in the future.

Counterintuitively, however, high emotional intelligence was not linked to better joint negotiation outcomes when measured by points. This brings up the natural question: what’s going on here? Why didn’t the negotiators with more emotional intelligence fair better? Researchers believe that these negotiators’ keen sense of empathy may have led them to make excessive concessions to their counterparts at the expense of their own gains. What has been reveled in previous studies was that emotionally intelligent negotiators may be vulnerable to exploitation by their counterparts for this reason.

What we can learn from these studies is that more emotional intelligence has both a good side and a bad side. The good side is revealed in that emotional rapport and other signs of a keen emotional intellect can promote trust and long-term partnerships. However, the bad side is revealed when we realize that emotional intelligence prompts unnecessary concessions. As negotiators what we need to realize is that emotional intelligence may undermine the same connections that it is touted to enhance. Clearly this is a tool that we need to learn how to use with care.

What All Of This Means For You

In the past few years, emotional intelligence has become a popular buzzword. Negotiators may think that they need to either have it or perhaps have more of it. However, we first need to take a careful look at it and find out what it really means for us and our negotiations.

Emotional intelligence has to do with our ability to recognize emotions both in others and ourselves. On the surface, it sure seems like the characteristics that make up emotional intelligence are things that we’d all like to have more of. A negotiator can be lead to think that increasing their emotional intelligence could make them a better negotiator. Studies of the role that emotional intelligence plays in a principled negotiation have been done for a long time. The question that researchers have been trying to answer is if emotional intelligence correlates with beneficial negotiation outcomes. Researchers measured the emotional intelligence of test subjects and then had them negotiate. High emotional intelligence was not linked to better joint negotiation outcomes. Researchers believe that these negotiators’ keen sense of empathy may have led them to make excessive concessions to their counterparts at the expense of their own gains.

The ability to connect with the other side of the table opens the door to successful negotiations with them in the future. However, as negotiators we need to be very careful about our emotional intelligence. If we are not careful, our emotional intelligence can cause us to give too much away to the other side. Monitor your behavior in your next negotiation and go ahead and connect with the other side, but keep a careful watch on how much you are giving away and why you are doing it.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you discover that your emotional intelligence is causing you to give too much away to the other side, what steps should you take?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you sit back and think about it, what are you really trying to accomplish during a negotiation with all of your fancy negotiation styles and negotiating techniques? If you are like most of us, what you would like to be able to do is to discover additional value that nobody realized was there, perhaps make some useful trades with the other side, and finally come up with a deal that will exceed both sides initial expectations. All of this sounds wonderful; however, how can a negotiator actually make this happen?

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