March 5, 2020

The role of emotional intelligence in negotiations

By Dennis Stanley


logic and feel concept with heart and brain

Whilst facts and logic are often considered as the key components (or inputs) of negotiations, these ingredients alone will not make for a successful outcome. Negotiations are often seen as a “win-lose” or “zero sum” process, in my experience these type of agreements often fail to live up expectations due to the one sided nature of the outcome – with the “loser” often seeking ways during the agreements to “make amends”. So, if logic and facts alone aren’t enough, what else should be considered during the process of negotiation?

Beyond facts and logic

If you have to negotiate contract terms as a part of your job – or maybe you’re facing the challenge for the first time – you may be interested to hear that there is a personal quality that can boost your negotiating skills and help you secure a deal that benefits everyone. Sound good? 

The quality I’m talking about here is Emotional Intelligence (EI). A combination of self-awareness, self-control, empathy and the ability to influence other people’s emotional state, EI is perfectly positioned to help you successfully navigate negotiations amicably and successfully.

How does emotional intelligence benefit you during negotiations?

The five characteristics of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills – each contribute to the skills that make you good at negotiating. These are:

Communicate clearly

I’m sure you’ll have heard an adage, or two, about communication being a two-way thing. Regardless of how tiring sayings like that can get, the sentiment behind these ones are true. People with high levels of EI have both the self-awareness to be able to remain aware of what they are saying (no rambling on and going off track here!) and the ability to empathise, actively listen and connect with the other person, so that the communication required during successful negotiations can take place effectively. 

Think rationally – even if things get heated

When you are in a challenging situation it can be hard to maintain a level head and you can end up making decisions that you wouldn’t otherwise. During negotiations it can be easy to feel flustered and make a snap decision, without considering all the factors involved, or get ground down and pushed into the proverbial corner. Those with high levels of EI are able to recognise their emotions – before they become consuming or distracting – meaning that they can maintain control of their reactions and make logical decisions throughout the negotiation process.   

Build a strong rapport

Research has shown that high levels of EI enable you to build a strong rapport with the other party in negotiations. This rapport creates a sense of trust between the stakeholders, which will make them more amiable towards each other. As an added benefit, the study also found that this greater rapport led to the parties being more willing to work with each other in the future too. 

Overcome hostility

A research study found that people with high EI are better at managing conflict due to the fact that they can understand the needs of the person they are talking to, and from there address those needs. This can be particularly useful when negotiating with someone who is annoyed or trying to drive a hard-bargain. 

It is worth adding a caveat to this article though. Research has also shown that people with high emotional intelligence have, at times, been linked to conceding more than others in negotiations due to their increased level of empathy. And, for this reason they can be susceptible to other people taking advantage of them. This shouldn’t be seen to negate the points in the article, but by being aware of the potential pitfalls you can navigate around them, by ensuring a mix of personality types make up the negotiating team, to ensure “balance” and “perspective” is maintained during the negotiations.

I’ve previously written about how you can increase your emotional intelligence, which you can read here. Or, if you’d like to work with me in a one to one basis so you can receive expert advice and support while increasing your EI, then get in touch


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Dennis Stanley
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+44 (0) 7812 192 754