Negotiators often are advised to tamp down strong emotions and behave as rationally as possible at the bargaining table, but that can be easier said than done. More realistically, negotiators need skills and tools that can help them cope with their own potentially destructive emotions and those of their counterparts.
Some people come by these skills naturally: Those who score high on emotional intelligence are adept at appraising others’ emotions, being aware of their own emotions and how they affect others, regulating their emotions, deploying their emotions effectively, and showing empathy. Researchers are just beginning to explore how the concept, popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, plays out in negotiation.
In a new study, Buena Vista University professor Kihwan Kim and his colleagues assessed the baseline emotional intelligence of nearly 300 undergraduate business-school students using a survey, then paired the students and had them engage in a 25-minute job-negotiation simulation. The simulation gave participants opportunities to claim value for themselves, make tradeoffs across issues based on differing preferences, and also recognize an issue in which their preferences were fully compatible.
Negotiators whose counterparts scored high on emotional intelligence experienced positive emotions during their negotiation and developed positive impressions of those counterparts; not surprisingly, these positive emotions led them to want to work with their counterparts in the future. Emotional intelligence also increased the likelihood that negotiators’ counterparts viewed them as honest, reliable, and trustworthy. Emotionally intelligent negotiators achieved these gains by showing a positive attitude toward their counterparts and an interest in them.
Yet emotionally intelligent negotiators were actually less successful at claiming value for themselves than those who scored lower on emotional intelligence. Those scoring high on emotional intelligence may have made more concessions to avoid conflict and maintain a positive atmosphere, the researchers speculated. In addition, emotionally intelligent negotiators received no advantage in terms of the amount of joint gain created within pairs, although it is possible emotional intelligence might have a more beneficial impact over repeated interactions.
This early study suggests that emotionally intelligent individuals appear to be effective at building positive, trusting relationships in negotiation. However, those who score high on emotional intelligence may need to make an extra effort to negotiate assertively on their own behalf, lest they sacrifice too much for the sake of creating and maintaining harmony. In addition, as they skillfully cope with emotions, the emotionally intelligent should not lose sight of the importance of looking for useful tradeoffs across issues.
Resource: “Emotional Intelligence and Negotiation Outcomes: Mediating Effects of Rapport, Negotiation Strategy, and Judgment Accuracy,” by Kihwan Kim, Nicole L. Cundiff, and Suk Bong Choi. Group Decision and Negotiation, 2015.