The Personality Traits of Good Negotiators


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Although there are hundreds of books about how to negotiate more effectively, the advice they offer is often difficult to apply, for three reasons. First, there are just too many contextual specificities underpinning each negotiation, such that one size does not fit all. Second, the effectiveness of each strategy is partly dependent on the personal background of the negotiators — who they are, what they want, and how they connect. Third, many of the factors determining the outcome of negotiations are more emotional than rational, which requires a deep psychological understanding of the people involved.

Luckily, personality research provides valuable lessons in predicting an individual’s ability to negotiate effectively. Some traits are clearly indicative of good negotiation potential, while others are more of a handicap. That isn’t to say people can’t get better at it, but their success will depend on their ability to understand their own and the other party’s personality.

Among the traits that improve individuals’ negotiation abilities, emotional intelligence (EQ) is in a league of its own. Despite EQ’s relatively recent appearance in the realm of personality traits, a Google Scholar search produces an astonishing 131,000 hits on EQ and negotiation. Most of these articles highlight the beneficial aspects of EQ vis-à-vis negotiation. For instance, a study by Wharton and MIT professors shows that people with higher EQ are more likely to induce positive mood states in their negotiation counterparts and leave them more satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation. EQ also translates into higher levels of satisfaction with one’s own negotiation outcome, regardless of the objective result. Even more important, EQ is linked to higher levels of self-control and likability, no doubt a powerful combination when it comes to engaging with others in emotionally taxing situations. As if all of this weren’t enough, people with higher EQ also tend to be more self-aware, so they are better able to understand how other people see them, a critical advantage not just during negotiations.

Another trait that has shown a strong association with negotiation potential is cognitive ability (IQ). In a comprehensive meta-analytic review examining almost 5,000 studies, higher IQ and the related construct of cognitive complexity were found to predict better performance during lab experiments on negotiation, such as the prisoner’s dilemma. While one would obviously expect IQ to boost negotiation performance, the research also revealed a more surprising finding: People with higher IQs tend to approach negotiations in a more cooperative or collaborative way, treating their negotiation counterpart as a partner and embracing win-win strategies that tend to leave both sides satisfied.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the CEO of Hogan Assessments, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. His latest book is The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential. Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or here.

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