What do you think – emotional intelligence, relationships, or should something else be optimized in negotiations for the best results?

A robotic hand and a human hand pointing at each other and a blue go in the center

Conflict in negotiations can be caused by a number of factors. As a leader information is provided here to help you with your future negotiations. The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation looked into this question and reported on a number of studies. They did not expect to find what they found out. Emotional intelligence was associated with better rapport with the other side, and strong rapport nurtured trust and a willingness to work with the other party. However, there was no correlation with better negotiation results. Why was that? The commentary that follows summarizes key points from this article and provides additional insights from other sources to help you with negotiations going forward.




Developing good working relationships with the other side helps both parties understand each other emotionally, enhance shared values, build upon personality similarities, explore backgrounds, and share viewpoints.

It is important to build a relationship to promote trust.

This promotes understanding, respect for one another, and potentially friendship. As time goes on negotiations can become even smoother and more efficient.

It has also been found that having good relationships is necessary for better health.  Applying this concept in negotiations would indicate that having relationships with others who can trust each other will promote better understanding and efficiencies when negotiating with others. Not only is this good for your health, but it is also good for business. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Think about this with whom you are negotiating. Do you want to do business with them? Give this serious thought as you participate in the negotiation process. Relationships matter, but what about empathy?




Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other persons shoes and feel their pain. This is a powerful emotion that is extremely important to demonstrate listening. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are typically able to empathize with others well. However, this is a two edge sword in a negotiation. Two much empathy may make the negotiator susceptible to being overly vulnerable and being exploited by the other party.

It is important to be empathetic when listening, but to remain competent and focused on the goals of the negotiation

for the emotional intelligent to be able to negotiate a better result.

You need to be aware of the limitations of empathy. If you are two empathetic you may underestimate the other party resulting in losses associated with strategic thinking. As a result, you may be blind sided considering the other sides ability to negotiate effectively. The other party may even take advantage of this by becoming angry and producing additional demands.


Negative emotions in a negotiation


Attitude coming into a negotiation matters. If you just came from an argument from home, something happened on the way to work with a bad driver, you just had a hard conversation with someone at work or some other trigger has flooded your blood stream with adrenaline and cortisol, watch out. Pause. Reflect on what has happened that may be impacting you negatively.

Consider mindfulness and clearing your mind before entering the negotiation.

This will help you to clear the negative thoughts and focus on the negotiation ahead.

If you are beginning to feel anger or anxiety it may be time for a break. These emotions may cloud your own ability to think clearly. It has also been shown that if the other party becomes angry you may be prone to make concessions that go beyond what is reasonable. For these reasons, if you or the other party is becoming or has become angry, take a break so that cooler heads may make better decisions.


Lead with compassion and listen with empathy


Having written on this topic previously, I direct you to that article. Compassion is all about remaining calm, confident and competent so that you can focus on the negotiation. What is your goal? How are you approaching this negotiation? Focus on your and the other party’s interests so that you can work collaboratively to produce something that hopefully  has positives for both of you, and at a minimum is something you both can live with to accomplish your shared goals. Empathy is addressed above. As you work with the other party be empathetic with them. Understand where they are coming from. Share with them that you feel for their concerns. Remain authentic to yourself, and listen actively. Understand that strong emotional intelligence is associated with empathy, but as stated above be careful not to let your guard down and be taken advantage of by the other party.  




Be aware of your emotional intelligence. Consider taking a test to determine your own emotional intelligence and consider this text on Emotional Intelligence 2.0 with its own test on line.  I took it and  followed up 60 days later with the retest. I found it helpful for me. In addition, here are two books on Listening for Leaders and Conversational Intelligence that I have found helpful that may help you too.  I have shared all three of these texts with others too and received positive comments from those that have used these sources.

What you do is of course up to you. When you are in a negotiation next time consider your emotional, listening, and conversational intelligence in light of the commentary here. Develop an authentic, connecting relationship. Empathize and listen to the other party. Be conscious of becoming too empathetic and being taken advantage of by the other party. Watch out for anger or intimidation. Be prepared to take a break. See how it goes. Let me know if this was helpful or if you have any ideas you want to share with me. Keep on learning. Be safe. Be well. Have fun.


About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]