Years ago, negotiation was seen as an “intellectual” activity — a meeting of the minds, challenging one another’s ideas and concepts analytically and dispassionately.

Displays of emotion were disparaged with lines like, “There’s no need to get all emotional, it’s just business.”

Since then, we have developed sufficiently to appreciate the principle of the emotionally intelligent negotiator.

We recognise that emotions play a large part in:

• How someone will perceive an offer from the other party, and

• How likely they are to give the decision that you want.

Reading other people’s emotions and (appropriately) demonstrating our own can enhance rapport and understanding, which gives us a better chance of arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement — the fabled win-win outcome.


While we like to think that we can analyse issues based purely on facts, the reality is that we are all biased according to our beliefs, assumptions and past experience.

In a recent article in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called Trust Your Gut or Think Carefully?, researchers Christine Ma-Kellams and Jennifer Lerner examined whether intuitive or systematic thought produced greater empathic accuracy.

They discovered that when trying to better understand others’ emotions, systematic thinking produced better results that intuition.

For example, irritation in the other party could be generated by:

• The environment: They might feel physically uncomfortable or unhappy with the surroundings.

• The situation: They might dislike the position they have been put in — perhaps by their superiors or by your bargaining.

• The issue: There might be one aspect of the deal that they find difficult, tedious or uninteresting.

• The people: Others at the negotiating table might irritate or intimidate them. Make sure it is not you.


With head and heart, it should never be a case of one or the other. Both are required.

Using head without heart could damage your brand enormously through trying to deflect blame or minimise loss of profits.

Using heart without head can make you a victim of those prepared to use emotions manipulatively.

The most common two tactics are belittling and goading you into saying something you will regret.

Don’t take them personally. See them as nothing more than the banter that goes on pre-match between supporters of the opposing teams.

You may be able to deal with this by mentally removing yourself, but it may require you to physically remove yourself — even if it is just for a trip to the restroom.

You don’t have to be totally passive. If you decide to show your frustration and/or anger, only do it for the right reasons.

You might decide that this is the only way you can get them to understand certain points. Never use emotion to “let off steam” or to “get even”.

Negotiation success requires you not just to be “head smart” — you need to be emotionally smart as well.

Article by Kevin Ryan, international speaker, workshop leader, author and managing director of Training Edge Australia.

* This article first appeared in the print edition of  The Straits Times, Recruit section on 28 April 2017