Why emotional intelligence gives women the upper hand at the negotiation table

Written by Staff Writer

Jun 28, 2022

By Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty


When we enter into a negotiation, what’s naturally foremost in our minds is what we want to achieve, what is important to us and how our internal stakeholders will react to the outcome, but focussing solely on our own agendas will almost always be counter-intuitive.

All too often, men regard negotiation as a battle of wills, a deadlock between two aggressors where the first one to blink loses and, although there will often be one party who compromises more, this style of negotiation seldom results in two winners who both feel satisfied when they leave the table.

What’s generally lacking in these scenarios is a higher level of emotional intelligence which is an essential leadership quality and invaluable in negotiations as it helps negotiators to better gauge and assess the needs and motivations of those around them.

And, as women are generally groomed by society to possess higher emotional intelligence than men, this makes having a woman at the negotiation table crucial to a favourable outcome.


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The five most important components of emotional intelligence in negotiation are:



This the ability to not only understand your own mood and emotions but also how they affect other people which helps a negotiator to realistically assess a negotiation situation. Women are generally expected to express their emotions more freely than men in society, therefore making them more self-aware. 



Self-regulation allows a person to better control their responses and behaviours which enables them to be regarded as more trustworthy which is crucial in negotiation.


Internal motivation

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 and, again, more women than men possess this characteristic.



Women are generally more empathetic than men and are therefore better able to understand the positions of other people and build relationships based upon a common understanding. Empathy is also empowering because if you can understand the emotions and perceptions that are driving someone’s actions, then you’re more equipped to influence their behaviour in an organic and lasting way.


Social skills

In a negotiation, social skills can help you establish rapport, draw insight from your environment, ease tension, pick up on other nonverbal cues, and even add an element of humour which will diffuse tense moments and smooth the way forward.

Women are also more sensitive to peer feedback and, in negotiations, it’s critical to listen and understand feedback in order to find a solution that benefits both parties. If you’re not listening to the other party and taking their positions seriously, you’re often engaged in a stand-off rather than a negotiation.


That said, it can be tricky to understand just what is expected of us around the negotiation table as we don’t want to come across as too emotional, weak or a push-over, but if we stick to the following rules, we have every chance of success:

  1. Never skip the small talk – this establishes rapport from the get-go and puts all parties at ease. And people who have the emotional intelligence to be patient and develop a rapport over inconsequential matters are far more likely to get what they want.
  2. Try to visualise the other side’s emotional motivations – take the time to think about and anticipate what the other parties would like to see as an outcome and then imagine what their emotional motivation for wanting that outcome might be. You know what has brought you together, but people are also often motivated emotionally, for instance by a desire to feel like their suggestions are taken seriously.
  3. Use the first-person plural – wherever possible, use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ as this highlights what you have in common, signalling to the other side that there are areas of agreement and that you can envision a future working together.
  4. Determine if the other side can actually reach an agreement – negotiations often fall apart because one side is only there to talk but doesn’t actually have the authority to reach an agreement. Such time-wasting is likely to cause animosity and unnecessarily damage the relationship.


Emotional cues are often subtle, particularly when the social context makes them difficult to convey explicitly, yet effective negotiation very much depends on recognising and managing non-verbal cues and personal and social biases in order to develop trust.

At the end of the day, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate – and if there is a woman at your table, chances are you’ll achieve just that.



*For more, check out our bumper 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here

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