4 Reasons Emotional Intelligence Gives Women an Upper Hand as Negotiators
It's one of the oldest business adages in the book: You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. Successful negotiation, particularly in high-stakes situations, is often the difference between a smashing success and a crushing failure.
In the past, negotiation has been conceived of as a battle of wills, a deadlock between two aggressive parties where the first one to blink loses. However, in my experience, successful negotiation is much more nuanced -- and much less testosterone-fueled.
Winning is good, but finding solutions that are satisfactory to both parties is best.
Women, with their innate emotional intelligence, are uniquely equipped with the soft skills required to succeed in negotiation. Here's why:
1. Successful negotiation requires building relationships.
The key to any successful negotiation is establishing relationships of trust. Without these mutual understandings, the parties will focus on serving their own selfish needs and compromise will be difficult.
It's rare for any two parties to enter negotiation ready to fully yield to the other's requests. The power of a healthy relationship can step into this gap and help build bridges between two otherwise estranged groups.
"Women tend to be better at emotional empathy than men, in general," Dr. Dan Goleman wrote in Psychology Today. "This kind of empathy fosters rapport and chemistry. People who excel in emotional empathy make good counselors, teachers and group leaders because of this ability to sense in the moment how others are reacting."
Ranking high in emotional intelligence gives women an edge when it comes to building relationships. Empathy -- understanding where people are coming from and what they need, is perhaps the single most important part of building a strong relationship -- and successfully negotiating with someone.
Related: Women, It's Time to Take Control
2. Being able to articulately describe feelings is key.
The ability to express one's feelings is another crucial element of negotiation. Two stiff-lipped negotiators can stare each other down for hours without success, waiting for the other to crack.
As women, society gives us the necessary permission to use the language we need to communicate our emotions. As LaRae Quy, an FBI counterintelligence agent, has noted, "Little girls are given permission by society to be empathetic, use language that expresses emotions, and place priorities on developing deep and meaningful relationships (starting with dolls)."
Unfortunately, men do not receive the same opportunity. Men's stoicism can be an Achilles heel in negotiation, as successfully identifying and matching emotional currents in the room can mean the difference between success and failure.
"The effective negotiator or mediator must take into account not only the economic, political and physical aspects of the process, but also the emotional tenor of themselves as well as that of all of the parties," Edward Kelly and Natalija Kaminskienė wrote in their landmark study on the importance of emotional intelligence in negotiation and mediation.
Women's ability to recognize and speak about their feelings and those of others make them naturally suited for negotiation.
3. In negotiation, influence means more than authority.
Men often approach negotiation from a position of authority. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, I believe it is not the best or most effective tactic to use when trying to build consensus.
Everyone has some level of resistance to authority.
With power always comes the threat of abuse. Influence, on the other hand, is a more subtle thing. It's generated by empathizing with the person you are negotiating with and steering their opinions in your direction. It's what really sparks the combustion in the engines of negotiation.
Women's empathy and relationship-building ability allows them to quickly build influence with others. They can read a room and gauge what the peripheral audience thinks of the situation.
All of this data collection gives them sway in the negotiation. Their influence over the situation increases the odds that the final compromise will swing in their favor.
4. Sensitivity to feedback is crucial when working out a compromise.
A 2016 study detailed in the Harvard Business Review compared dozens of male and female students at a Spanish business college, and found that the women were significantly more sensitive to peer feedback than their male counterparts.
While one's self-esteem should never be reliant on the opinions of others, sensitivity to feedback can be a tremendous advantage in some situations -- like high stakes negotiation. If you're not listening to the other party and taking their positions seriously, you're not engaged in a negotiation -- it's an argument.
Every negotiation is different, and of course, men have innate skills that are very valuable as well, but women are rightfully beginning to take their place at the table as expert negotiators, and it's not hard to see why.