As former FBI negotiators and professional negotiation coaches, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about emotional intelligence (EQ). There’s a reason why EQ is a fundamental part of the Never Split the Difference methodology and one of the most versatile and powerful skills you can possess. Here are five elements of emotional intelligence you can use during a negotiation.
Although the word itself may sound pretty basic, becoming more self-aware takes conscious and constant effort. On any given day, the average person experiences emotion 90 percent of the time. Despite the fact that we’re undeniably emotional, most of us don’t make an effort to bring our emotional experience into our conscious awareness.
Regardless of whether or not we acknowledge them, our emotions tend to run the game. They often affect our behavior, limit our abilities, cloud our situational awareness, and impede our decision-making faculties—often without our awareness. Studies have shown that sadness makes us more impatient and anger increases our desire for reward. That’s not to suggest that emotions are bad or should be ignored. On the contrary, emotions are like superpowers—they can be an invaluable source of insight and power if we learn how to use them in productive ways.
It’s much easier to describe feelings and perceptions when they’re in your rearview. True self-awareness involves identifying your emotions in the moment and understanding the effect those emotions are having on the people around you. In that regard, self-awareness is a precursor to tactical empathy.
During a negotiation, silently labeling your own negative emotions as you would your counterpart’s can help reduce their power and give you some space to recenter yourself. If you’re aware of your emotions, it becomes easier to understand how you might appear to the other person and adjust your communication style accordingly.
After you’ve honed your self-awareness, the next step to improving your EQ and becoming a more effective negotiator is honing your self-regulation skills. You may be aware that you’re angry, but if you’re not using that awareness to help control your behavior, then it’s not doing you any good. In a negotiation, self-regulation means consciously controlling your emotions, resisting emotionally driven impulses and reactions, and frequently redirecting your attention to focus on how to achieve your goals.
As you practice self-awareness and self-regulation, it’s important to maintain an open and nonjudgmental attitude. Self-regulation isn’t an excuse for self-arbitration. In a negotiation, strive to accept where you’re at in the moment and attempt to refocus your attention on understanding your counterpart. Did they trigger your frustration by taking an aggressive tone? Better yet, did you misinterpret their tone as a personal slam, when in fact they are mad at the situation? If you direct your focus to uncovering the cause of their emotions, you won’t be immobilized by your own.
3. Internal Motivation
Out of all five EQ elements, motivation is probably the least intuitive. We often talk about motivation in terms of work and sports, but internal motivation is a totally different ball game.
Unlike external motivation, which focuses on rewards such as recognition, money, and stature, internal motivation refers to the values and passions that drive us to better ourselves. People who are internally motivated pursue personal growth opportunities and are more apt to feel “flow”—that blissful state when you’re completely absorbed in an activity and can draw upon all of your skills with greater ease.
Although negotiations are often aimed at achieving external rewards, becoming a more effective negotiator begins with internal motivation. Before you can perform well under pressure, you need to set small goals and practice in low-stakes situations. Practicing negotiation skills and stepping outside of your comfort zone is just plain uncomfortable—there’s no way around it but to embrace the personal journey.
Internally motivated people tend to view failures as learning opportunities and make an effort to build upon what they learn in each experience. Ironically, this also makes them more likely to reap the long-term external payoffs.
Empathy is one of the cornerstones of EQ. It refers to the ability to understand another person’s perspective and emotions and respond in a way that demonstrates that understanding. This demonstration of understanding is the basis of effective communication and the foundation for trust, connection, and likeability.
Empathy is also empowering. If you can understand the emotions and perceptions that are driving someone’s actions, then you’re more equipped to influence their behavior in an organic and lasting way. When you pair empathy with self-awareness and self-regulation, you have the ingredients for conducting tactical empathy—one of the most powerful negotiation tactics.
5. Social Skills
The ability to interact and communicate with other people draws heavily on the other four elements in this list. To communicate adeptly in social situations, you need to understand other people’s emotions and points of view and use that information to monitor your own emotions and behavior. That said, social skills are also informed by culture and context—a broader awareness of how your environment influences perceptions and actions. In a negotiation, social skills can help you establish rapport, draw insight from your environment, ease tension, pick up on other nonverbal cues, and add humor. It will amaze you how far you can get with fitting humor.
As you work to hone your emotional intelligence, remember that low-stakes practice makes for high-stakes success. Trying anything for the first time in a high stakes situation will only add to your stress and deter you from every doing it again. There are countless everyday opportunities to hone your EQ skills and become a more effective communicator and negotiator, it always helps to have a foundation to work from.