Emotional Intelligence as a Negotiating Skill

Does emotional intelligence impact your success at the negotiating table?

By Katie Shonkon / 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 Rapport at the Bargaining Table During Business Negotiations).

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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.

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 Article: Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s New Book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” – Program on Negotiation faculty members Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s new book examines the importance of giving and receiving feedback from colleagues and counterparts.

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.

Negotiating Skills and 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.

Monitor Your Emotions in Dispute 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.