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EI – Soft Skill or Superpower?

EI - Soft Skill or Superpower?

Negotiations can be a real challenge. Whether it’s negotiating in the business world, in politics, or when buying a car, they are often decided by emotions. This is where emotional intelligence (EI) comes into play.

When you hear “emotional intelligence (EI),” you may think of someone who is kind, empathetic, and always has an open ear. Although these qualities are important, emotional intelligence is much more than this.

It is short-sighted when people refer to emotional intelligence as a “soft skill.” This makes it sound as though emotional intelligence is fluffy feel-good nonsense that is fit only for coffee dates with one’s girlfriends. In reality, however, emotional intelligence is a hard-hitting skill that gives you the power to disarm and even attack those at the negotiating table who are trying to do you harm. When it comes to fighting fire with fire, emotional intelligence is the secret weapon.

A number of studies have shown that people with high emotional intelligence achieve better results in negotiations. A person with high emotional intelligence can better control their own emotions and more accurately recognize the emotions of others, which are crucial in negotiations.

What emotional intelligence actually is

Emotional intelligence (EI), simply put, is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own and others’ feelings, and to translate them into meaningful, goal-oriented, and effective behavior. EI is comprised of five factors:

  1. Self-awareness: The first step to improving emotional intelligence. Before going into a negotiation, you should be aware of how you feel and what thoughts and feelings you’re having. This helps you to better position yourself and understand the other party’s behavior, and prevents preconceptions from impacting your thought process.
  2. Self-regulation: This means being able to control your own emotions and reactions. In a negotiation, you can’t always rely on your first impulse. You need the ability to keep your own emotions in check and remain constructive. Only those who can control themselves can control the negotiating table.
  3. Motivation: The ability to develop and maintain one’s own stamina. Especially in crisis negotiations or difficult negotiations, giving up is not an option. Realize that you are responsible for the success or failure of a negotiation and therefore always analyze ways to solve problems, find ways around obstacles, and focus all your skills on the successful conclusion of the negotiation.
  4. Empathy: The ability to recognize and accurately interpret the emotions of the negotiating counterpart. It helps to understand the perspectives and feelings of the other negotiating parties to put oneself in their position and find common ground. In addition, emotion recognition can also help explore the limits of the counterpart and optimize one’s own negotiating result.
  5. Social competence: This refers to being able to build and maintain a relationship. In a negotiation, this means also gaining influence over the other negotiating party and building one’s own credibility. It is important to choose the right words and approaches to establish a conversational atmosphere and to use them in a structured way.

Emotional intelligence thus comprises a set of skills that enable people to read, understand and influence emotions – both in themselves and in others. It’s effectively a superpower that allows you to connect with people on a deeper level and master even the most difficult situations.

The light and the dark side of power

Of course, it’s generally good to use your emotional skills to be relationship-oriented and social. But as in Star Wars, there is a dark side to EI. EI can and does get used in Machiavellian ways. Just look at some of the most sophisticated criminals in the world — whether drug and cartel lords or financial and economic fraudsters – many of them are incredibly emotionally intelligent and use this empathy to manipulate and exploit the desires and fears of others.

That high emotional intelligence is associated with successful negotiation outcomes is scientifically proven, as mentioned above. The use of emotional intelligence helps create a positive atmosphere in which the negotiating parties can communicate openly with one another. It aids with understanding and analyzing the other party as well as asserting one’s own goals and exploring the limits of the other party.

If we now look at the various negotiation approaches, it quickly becomes clear how important emotional intelligence is in negotiations. Let’s take “hardball negotiating,” for example. Here, the negotiating partner is often put under pressure to get them to accept an offer. A person with high emotional intelligence is more easily able to withstand the pressure (self-regulation), recognize the best tactical action in their position (empathy and emotion recognition), and exert influence on the other negotiating party (social competence)


Emotional intelligence is a crucial factor for successful negotiations. By practicing the five factors of EI (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills), one can create an optimized and productive conversational atmosphere to control the negotiation and achieve better results. By being aware of how you perceive yourself and others, you can better understand the behavior and expectations of the other side, as well as recognize and control your own desires and fears.

In short, emotional intelligence is a powerful tool that can be used for good or for evil. It’s not just about being nice — it’s about using your emotional skills to navigate the world, connect with others, and achieve your goals. So, if you want to succeed in negotiations, it’s time to work on your emotional intelligence.


1 Harvard Law School: The Limits of Emotional Intelligence as a Negotiation Skill –

2 Emotional Intelligence and Negotiation: The Tension between Creating and Claiming Value. (2004). FOO, Maw Der; Elfenbein, Hillary Anger; TAN, Hwee Hoon; and AIK, Voon Chuan; International Journal of Conflict Management. 15, (4), 411-429.

3 Emotion regulation: affective cognitive and social consequences, J. Gross; Psychophysiology, 39 (2002), pp. 281-291

4 Forbes: What’s Missing In Negotiation? Incorporating Emotional Intelligence Into Your Next Difficult Conversation –

5 Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Edward J. Kelly, Natalija Kaminskienė; Science Direct:

Thorsten Hofmann, C4 Institute, Quadriga University Berlin

Thorsten Hofmann leads the CfN (Center for Negotiation) at the Quadriga University Berlin’s Institute for Crisis, Change and Conflict Communication C4. He is an internationally certified Negotiation Trainer and advises corporations and organisations in complex negotiation processes.