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Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in Negotiations

As effective negotiators, the ability to manage our own emotions and deal with those of our counterparts is one of the distinguishing factors.

Although we might wish we could just focus on resolving the substantive issues and leave the emotions out of it, that’s not realistic when human beings come together to resolve differences and reach agreements. Negotiations can get heated. In New York where property dealing can feel like a blood sport, Fern Hammond, a New York broker, tells the story when an angry woman threw her keys at her husband just as the were about to lose on a residential property. She threw them so hard that she actually drew blood. The target of the woman’s anger was her own husband. She was furious that he had agreed to sell their place for less than she thought it was worth. How much was the house worth? What was the emotional value that had been attached to the property?

We all have stories of how our emotions ran away with us and caused us to do or say things that we later regretted. Negotiations seem to exacerbate these feelings of helplessness. Take the case of Neil, a mild mannered hotel manager in based in US. Neil spends his days welcoming customers to his boutique hotel, he treats them well and they respond in kind. On this day, he explained, a seemingly lovely couple left without paying the mini-bar bill. Neil became enraged by this show of deceit and proceeded to call the husband in a fit of anger. An huge argument ensued until the wife calmly came to the phone to say that their credit card had been stolen and they had left the money plus a healthy tip at the front desk before leaving.

Leave Emotions Out of It

Conventional negotiation tends to focus on analysing the problem and structuring deals around potential solutions. But our passions matter in real-life deal making and dispute resolution. We need to understand, channel, and learn from our emotions in order to adapt to the situation at hand and engage others successfully. Learning to manage our emotions as well as those of our counterpart can help us avoid potentially explosive situations as in the case of the husband and the keys.

That means we need to be emotionally prepared to negotiate—even when you expect the process to go smoothly. Anxieties and petty resentments may lurk in the shadows and if left we allow them to fester, they have an uncanny way of completely derailing a negotiation – just at the wrong moment.

Since the inception of the Harvard Program on Negotiation in the early 1960´s, Negotiation theory has come a long way, but still has not fully caught up, however, with breakthroughs in neuroscience and psychology. With over 200 emotions available to the human experience, it is clear to see why it would be easier to focus on the “hard stuff”.

Popularised by Daniel Goleman the concept of emotional intelligence is now a permanent fixture in leadership, management, conflict resolution and team training. Somehow when it comes to negotiation even the most chilled out person can become a deadly assassin.

Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation allows us to:

  • Review the emotional state of ourselves and our counterpart
  • Understand what part those emotions may by playing in the negotiations
  • Identify the things that are most important to both parties
  • Build better connections with all parties
  • Demonstrate a willingness to find positive outcomes

Research by Alison Wood Brooks & Maurice E Schweitzer of University of Pennsylvania, Showed that when they asked people what emotions they’d feel in negotiating for a car or a higher salary, anxiety topped the list. They also found that people who feel anxious or neutral about negotiating – even those who are seasoned professionals – tend to achieve lower outcomes than those who feel positive about the negotiation.

The relationship between anxiety and negotiator behaviour is moderated by negotiator self-efficacy; high self-efficacy mitigates the harmful effects of anxiety. In our Level 1 course on Emotionally Intelligent Negotiation (EIN), we offer deep dive sessions and practical tips on how to ensure that you feel confident when going into your business and professional negotiations.

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