In the movie, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ Poe Dameron faces up to Kylo Ren, in what seems like an extremely intimidating negotiation. On his knees, with a gun pointed at his head and explosions occurring all around him, Poe sits in silence for a second. Then he asks, "Are you talking first? Or am I? Who’s supposed to talk first?"
In a negotiation, we may, at times feel like we are on our knees, awaiting the potential explosion of the deal not going our way. However, like Poe, we need to stay calm and take control of the situation. In such tough situations, we are not only interacting with our negotiating counterparts.Rather, we are also negotiating with ourselves, or rather our response to situations that create an ‘intimidating tension.’
Tension makes many people uneasy. In fact, tension and uneasiness are cyclical in nature. Therefore with uneasiness comes more tension. When a meeting or negotiation is critical, we sense danger and risk and our body goes into “fight or flight” mode – either of which could sabotage the negotiation. The more important the negotiation, the more our body reacts to the pressure of the moment.
Do seasoned negotiators manage this pressure well? Do they handle stress and tension better than others? Probably ‘yes.’ As tension increases in a negotiation, the ones with high Emotional Intelligence (EI) outperform others. They feel differently about negotiation; they see it as a positive experience.
Competitive bargaining in a negotiation, where one side gains at the cost of the other, is only half of the story. Effective negotiating also depends on the ability to ensure that other parties’ interests are also met. Negotiators high in Emotional Intelligence, have many abilities that assist them in creating joint value for all parties involved in the deal.
Before we look at the relationship between the tension created while negotiating and EI, let us first understand what creates this tension. In situations where two or more parties negotiate, each party has two primary goals; claiming value for self andcreating value for others. This dual demand to ensure our self-interests on the one hand; and building relationships and trust on another, creates tension. When seen like this, tension seems a normal part of most negotiations. While negotiating, if this tension is not managed well, we tend to behave in one of these two ways - we either become very inflexible and hurt the relationship with our negotiating counterpart or become too cooperative, thus giving away too much too early. In contrast, when this tension is managed, we increase our chances to satisfy the real needs of all parties.
So, how do we develop a mindset towards negotiation that can help us manage stress and tension in the process? This is where EI comes into play. According to Daniel Goleman, an expert in the field of Emotional Intelligence, the benefit of EI is that it captures a range of abilities.
Some of the advantages of EI are:
a. Accurately perceiving and expressing emotion in self
b. Recognizing and appraising emotion in others
c. Regulating emotion in self
d. Using emotions to facilitate performance
People high in EI are fully aware of their natural response to ‘tension.’ Thereby, they are more open to cope with and even adapt to such situations. This allows them to think objectively about how to achieve their goals in the negotiation. By creating a positive negotiating atmosphere, a negotiator high in EI is likely to get better results. In addition, by understanding subtle cues and observing counterpart’s reaction, they would be able to determine the optimal offer necessary to satisfy the counterpart.
However, in a negotiation, such competitive bargaining, where one side gains at the cost of the other, is only half of the story. Effective negotiating also depends on the ability to ensure that other parties’ interests are also met. Negotiators high in EI, have many abilities that assist them in creating joint value for all parties involved in the deal.
Maintaining composure and a positive problem-solving attitude benefits the creation of joint objective value.
The ability to recognize the emotions of others can help understand whether the negotiation partner is satisfied with options offeredand whether the interests of the other side are met. Thismeans empathy plays a key role in any negotiation. Additionally, maintaining composure and a positive problem-solving attitude benefits the creation of joint objective value. Another component of EI, that is, regulating ones’ emotions, also facilitates the negotiation process.
These dimensions of EI enable negotiators to remain focused and retain their perspective even if emotions run high.
Otherwise, intense emotions can sometimes lead to stalemates or deadlocks during the negotiation process. Anger, for example, can hinder objectivity and can cause loss of trust. In contrast, positive actions taken by one side can lead to reciprocation by the other. By avoiding premature judgment, a negotiator could invest time to explore others’ interests and invent options. This facilitates the creation of joint mutual gains. Thus, negotiators who are high in Emotional Intelligence derive a more rewarding experience and generate positive outcomes from the interactions they have with negotiating counterparts.
These abilities, of a person high in EI, when applied in the mode of negotiation, not only help manage tension but also harness it. In fact, people with high EI are able to simultaneously focus on the seemingly contradictory goals like claiming value for self and creating value for another. They, therefore, can bring in this positive tension when there is none and regulate it in a way that creates a joint win for negotiating parties.
Ultimately, allowing tension to take over any situation is never going to end well. Using EI to harness this tension and taking advantage of all the positives it can give, will help the executives in achieving a successful, effective negotiation at any level.