Emotional Intelligence and Negotiating: Lessons From Harvard Business School

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
Jun 15, 2020
Image Credit: eggeeggjiew / Getty Images
SHARE THIS

Follow these tips from Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler to manage anxiety and emotionally prepare for negotiation.

  • "Emotional intelligence" is a term that describes the ability to recognize one's own state of emotions as well as the emotional states of others, which makes it easier to respond in a calm, logical manner.
  • To keep your cool during negotiations, it is important to identify the emotions of yourself and the other parties and to understand how these emotions can affect one's mental state.
  • Those who lack emotional intelligence often fail to make sound business decisions.

What is emotional intelligence?

To be a good negotiator, you need high emotional intelligence. This is the ability to recognize the state of not only your emotions, but those of others, allowing you to respond properly to the emotional situation without getting, well, overly emotional.

High EI is essential to effective negotiations that get the best results for all parties concerned, says Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler.

Additionally, according to Help Guide, emotional intelligence is commonly defined by these four attributes:

  • Self-management: This means you are capable of controlling your impulsive feelings and behaviors, easily adapting to changes, and managing your emotions in healthy ways.
  • Self-awareness: This means that you can recognize your own emotions and how they influence your behavior. You are comfortable in social settings and can recognize the power dynamics in groups and organizations.
  • Social awareness: This means that you have empathy and are able to understand others' emotions, needs and concerns.
  • Relationship management: This means that you are capable of forming and maintaining healthy relationships of all kinds.

[Curious about your own EI quotient? Take this short quiz. Once you're finished, come back and see how you can apply your results to negotiation tactics.]

Wheeler recounts the story of a contentious meeting between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at the height of the competition between their two companies (even though Microsoft and Apple actually did business with one another). Jobs accused Gates of stealing what was then the new graphics interface of Windows from Apple.

If you know anything at all about Steve Jobs, you know he was not a quiet man. Gates remained calm and, rather than yelling back, replied, "I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out you had already stolen it."

Besides this being a funny retort (who knew Bill could be funny?), Wheeler notes that by keeping calm and making a valid point that neither Apple nor Microsoft invented the GUI that Xerox pioneered, it reset the tone. Instead of escalating confrontation, this calmed the tone of the meeting down, and both men were able to discuss their different points of view more productively.

As Wheeler puts it, "The heart of EI is self-awareness, the capacity to sense the first stirrings of anger or anxiety. That awareness, in turn, must be coupled with an understanding of what kindled that particular response. ... If we dig deep enough, we sometimes see that our own attitudes are the real source of visceral response."

Keeping your cool in a negotiation

Negotiations can involve heated discussions. The difference between a deal and a deadlock is whether you can keep your cool even when emotions threaten to break the thermometer. According to Wheeler, emotionally intelligent people are effective negotiators because they ...

  • Identify the emotions they and others are experiencing.
  • Understand how these emotions affect their thinking.
  • Manage emotions, either by diffusing them or intensifying them.
  • Leverage emotional states to work toward mutually satisfying outcomes.

Wheeler's research shows that people who are not good at negotiating tend to experience high anxiety, caused by a sense of lack of control and unpredictability as to how negotiations will unfold. People in this emotional state tend to respond more quickly to counteroffers, consequently settling for less than optimum outcomes, just to get the negotiations (and associated anxiety) over with.

Strategies for managing negotiation

Sometimes we can't help how we feel. If we're anxious about being in negotiations, we can't just decide to not feel anxious. Wheeler suggests these coping strategies.

How do you want to feel and why?

Ideally, you want to feel confident, and one way to feel confident is to be fully prepared. Know beforehand what you want to achieve and to what degree you are willing to compromise.

To what extent do you have to modify your own emotional state to get in tune with other attendees? Maybe you don't want to come on too strong, or maybe you don't want to seem too accommodating.

What can you do to put yourself in the desired emotional state?

It's going to be different strokes for different folks. Some people listen to music (mellow music to get calm, heavy metal to get pumped), some meditate, and some go to the gym. Visualize the situation and you performing your best in that scenario. Whatever you do, the goal here is to achieve a state of confident relaxation.

Take a break from the negotiation.

If things aren't going your way or someone is irritating you, just take a break. This will keep you from responding in an emotionally inappropriate way to what's bugging you. Use the break time to reevaluate and consider how you can get back on the track you want

It's not enough to identify your emotions; you must manage them.

There's always someone who can push your buttons. Merely knowing this doesn't prevent those buttons from getting pushed. Managing how you react when those buttons are pushed determines whether you or that someone else dictates the course of negotiations and the final outcome.

For further education on emotional intelligence and the art of negotiation, you can download Wheeler's Negotiation 360 app

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff
The purpose of our community is to connect small business owners with experienced industry experts who can address their questions, offer direction, and share best practices. We are always looking for fresh perspectives to join our contributor program. If you're an expert working in your field – whether as an employee, entrepreneur, or consultant – we'd love to help you share your voice with our readers and the business.com community. We work hard to only publish high-quality and relevant content to our small business audience. To help us ensure you are the right fit, we ask that you take the time to complete a short application: https://www.business.com/contributor/apply/ We can't wait to hear what you have to say!
Like the article? Sign up for more great content.Join our communityAlready a member?