Emotional Intelligence as a Negotiating Skill

Does emotional intelligence impact your success at the negotiating table?

By — on / Negotiation Skills

emotional intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence burst into the cultural imagination in 1995 with the publication of psychologist Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book of the same name. Experts have predicted that scoring high on this personality trait would boost one’s bargaining outcomes and have found many successful negotiation examples using emotional intelligence in their research.

After all, 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 (see also, How to Build a Relationship at the Bargaining Table During Business Negotiations).

Negotiation Skills

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Should emotional intelligence be included among the most essential negotiation skills?

In a 2015 negotiation study, researchers Kihwan Kim (Buena Vista University), Nicole L. A. Cundiff (the University of Alaska, Fairbanks), and Suk Bong Choi (the University of Ulsan, South Korea) sought to determine whether emotional intelligence correlates with beneficial negotiation outcomes, in particular trust building, the desire to work together in the future, and joint gain (for a related article, see also Rapport Comes First).

The researchers began by having their participants, about 200 undergraduate students, fill out a questionnaire designed to measure emotional intelligence. At a later date, the students were paired and assigned to play the role of personnel manager or new employee in a negotiation over a job contract.

Successful negotiation examples: emotional intelligence and integrative negotiation strategies

They could negotiate issues such as salary, vacation, starting date, and medical coverage, and had opportunities to both create and claim value. Because points were assigned to the various outcomes, the researchers were able to measure participants’ relative success by adding up their points.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 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.

Why didn’t emotionally intelligent negotiators leverage their skills to help both parties achieve more? Kim and his team speculated 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. Past work has suggested that emotionally intelligent negotiators may be vulnerable to exploitation by their counterparts for this reason.

The results suggest that emotional rapport and other signs of a keen emotional intellect can promote trust and long-term partnerships. But when it prompts unnecessary concessions, emotional intelligence may undermine the same connections that it is touted to enhance.

Do you think emotional intelligence impacts success in negotiations? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Negotiation Skills

Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Related Negotiation Skills Articles:
Negotiation Skills: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback – Program on Negotiation faculty members Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book examines the importance of giving and receiving feedback from colleagues and counterparts.

Negotiating Skills and Negotiation Tactics – Body Language in the Negotiation Process: Confront Your Anxiety, Improve Your Results – Negotiations do not have to be intimidating – overcome the fear of bargaining and learn how to achieve optimal negotiated agreements with the tips in this article.

Negotiation Strategies: Emotional Expression at the Bargaining Table – The power of emotional expression at the bargaining table and how negotiators can benefit from the occasional expression of emotion during negotiations.

How to Control Your Emotions in Conflict Resolution – Check your emotional temperature during heated dispute resolution negotiations for optimal outcomes and minimal damage to bargaining relationships.

Adapted from “In Negotiation, Emotional Intelligence Brings Mixed Results,” first published in the April 2014 issue of Negotiation Briefings.

Originally published January 2015.

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6 Responses to “Emotional Intelligence as a Negotiating Skill”

  • Vishnu K.

    We can avoid emotional intelligence affecting our negotiation by not loosing sight of our interest.

  • Renata V.

    I’m of the opinion that EI is a critical component to successful negotiations. I am a professional mediator, trainer and coach. Every course that I teach includes an EI component. Managing ones emotions is a task but it takes skill to navigate through highly complex and often contentious issues when clients themselves are highly emotional. I am thrilled to see this article and look forward to future readings.

  • Tom T.

    It would be interesting to find out the values or beliefs of the parties negotiating. I conducted a similar informal activity for a negotiating class. Those who would be considered high E.I who held a sense of self-respect, assertiveness and win-win attitude, brokered far better salaries, than those with high E.I who incorporated more of an accommodating, don’t rock the boat negotiation vibe. It’s seems maybe we are falling into the idea the E.I is simply about getting in touch with your feelings, being nice, and a pushover. I view empathy as being able to personally relate, it doesn’t mean to lay down and allow others to walk over you. Perhaps to me this would be more of a personality or character trait, or choice value.

  • Mordecai O.

    Thank you for this article. I wish you had related it to diplomacy, though.

  • Precy P.

    This article fell into my lap at the right moment and learning about
    emotional intelligence is one of my goals now. Thank you for an amazing
    article with great examples and advice.

  • Muhammed R.

    Excellent read… Negotiation more of a give and take… One should be aware of what to lose in the process in order to earn..


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