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Negotiating with Emotional Intelligence

Drawing on our Emotional Intelligence can be a powerful tool to negotiating effectively, read on to know more.

We negotiate every day, at home with our families, in work with our colleagues, and with our classmates when we are learning. For this reason I wanted to write a piece on how people with high levels of emotional intelligence (EI) approach negotiations.

What follows is a summary of the main points to consider if you want to negotiate better: -

  1. Park the ego. Remind yourself that negotiations can become ego centred very quickly. When we negotiate from our egos our thinking becomes clouded, it is helpful to acknowledge this in yourself and understand that the less involved your ego becomes the better! As you move through a negotiation regularly check how your ego is sneaking into the conversation, make a constant effort to put it back in its box. Our egos are good things when used properly, our ego is what helps us train for, and run marathons for example. Neuroscience shows that the more egocentric people become the less able they are to consider other peoples positions. So practicing containing your ego is helpful to developing your EI.
  1. Before the discussion, prepare to listen. This is critical, listening changes everything in a negotiation, the better you listen the more likely you are to get a positive outcome. The benefits of listening are multiple; usually when a person feels like they are being truly listened to in a negotiation it helps to bring down their defenses. When negotiating, people believe they are going to come under attack from the outset, so I recommend making a concerted effort to listen with every ounce of energy in your body. Listening carefully is a simple principle but is in fact very hard to do, it is very similar to meditation in this regard. By listening, I don’t mean act like you are listening, I mean really listen. Try to comprehend the depths of the other person's argument, carefully consider if the points they are making resonate with you. Typically, the psychology of the person you are negotiating with will soften, they will start to feel less threatened and defensive. By showing you are interested in understanding their position, you are creating conditions in the other person to be more open to your suggestions later in the conversation.
  1. This point is critical, point 2 on its own could be perceived as a subtle form of manipulation. Interestingly, there is academic literature which argues that there is a dark side to Emotional Intelligence, so it’s important to ask yourself what your motivations are when using EI tools. Your intention when listening in a negotiation is also to determine if the other person is right and you are wrong. This is arguably one of the hardest EI skills to develop, the capacity to listen carefully to another person’s point of view, then test your own theory against it, and potentially arrive at the conclusion that your adversary’s idea is better than yours. While this might feel like a bitter pill to swallow there is an important issue to remember, this is where you learn.

Why being wrong is good for you

Imagine this scenario, you entered a negotiation believing you might be right, but you have shown enormous resolve to park your ego and you have listened to your colleagues point carefully. As a consequence of your effort, you have arrived at the conclusion that their idea is better than yours. While this might be a difficult realisation, the result of this is you are now wiser and in a better position then before the conversation. Anyone with this ability is, in my opinion, very high in EI. Now scale this strategy out over 3, 6, or 12 months and you have been learning constantly in your career. By listening and having the humility to change your mind you are now a better, stronger, wiser employee and/or student.

A word on people pleasing

I want to be clear that I am not advocating that you should concede every time you enter a negotiation. When it comes to EI, learning to assert yourself is just as important as being open to changing your mind. People pleasing is a very common behaviour, and while it might seem like EI on the surface, it is no more EI then people who behave arrogantly. People pleasing is the silent blocker to developing EI, many of us hide behind it while claiming to be empathetic, or we come across as empathetic to others. People pleasing is not empathy, it is in fact egocentric in origin. When we people please, we are trying to boost our own egos by making others like us, this behaviour blocks our development. For example, real empathy might mean telling someone we care about things they potentially may not want to hear but it might be for their own good, people pleasers are reluctant to do this and that is not EI. 

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