Want to master the art of negotiation? You need emotional intelligence

Helen Brand
The art of diplomacy and deal-making is not just the domain of global politicians and policymakers. (Source: Getty)

With so much focus on the detail – or lack thereof – in the UK’s proposed agreement for leaving the EU, you could be forgiven for thinking that deal-making is a technocrat’s art.

For the negotiation teams here in the UK and Europe, technical expertise and competences about the issues at stake are, of course, critical.

But another quality is also essential: empathy.

To offer agreements that work in the interest of both sides, you need to be able to see things from a different perspective than your own.

The Prime Minister’s negotiating and persuasion skills will remain firmly in the spotlight until a decision on Britain’s future place in Europe is reached.

And at the recent G20 meeting, it was clear that how to manage bilateral relationships are top of the global agenda, with other governments and businesses across the world all needing to navigate increasingly complicated trade and political differences in ways that are ideally mutually beneficial.

Can you empathise?

There is an increasing spotlight on how political leaders and their teams balance their competencies in such complex discussions.

The art of diplomacy and deal-making is not just the domain of global politicians, business leaders and policymakers. We all have to negotiate on a daily basis – with our peers, our teams, with suppliers, and with customers.

And for those working in accountancy and finance, the ability to negotiate successfully using empathy is a must in an age when budgets and the bottom line are under scrutiny.

Emotion in a digital age

To the casual observer, emotions and accountancy can seem like unrelated concepts. But to succeed in an era of increasing digitisation, today’s professional accountants need recognise the importance of this valuable human quality that’s notably difficult for machines to replicate.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.

Our latest ACCA research into this capability, the report Emotional Quotient in a Digital Age, identifies emotional intelligence as a key skill for developing the accountancy profession, particularly in a fast-evolving digital age.

Ultimately, professional accountants need a rounded set of skills that go beyond the technical knowledge expected of them.

In 2016, our research (entitled Professional Accountants – The Future: Drivers of Change and Future Skills) identified that finance professionals will increasingly need a broad blend of capabilities to succeed.

Intellect, creativity, emotional intelligence, vision, experience, mastery of the digital world, and technical and ethical skills are the seven key sought-after skills areas we isolated that employers are seeking today and in the decade ahead.

Collectively, these seven distinctive attributes come together to create the optimum blend of technical knowledge, skills and abilities the profession will need to be able to deploy.

Improving your EQ score

Many people have an intuitive sense of emotional intelligence – or EQ – often expressed as recognising and responding to emotions and interacting effectively with people.

But it is important to go beyond this and critically reflect on the value embedded in emotions in today’s digital age. And being able to effectively harness this value is vital for success.

Developing your EQ requires working on a range of competencies, including a growth mindset, self-knowledge, perspective-taking, empathy, and influence.

In our research, the concept of having a growth mindset emerged as a key enabler for the development of EQ. By this, we mean feeling comfortable in your ability to overcome obstacles, being able to challenge your own identity, and to extend yourself self into new areas.

Practising a growth mindset is also a point of high leverage – for example, improvements here can help professionals develop successfully across all emotional competencies more generally.

Experience can be an enabler for improving EQ, because many competencies are correlated with the level of exposure to certain situations.

An implication of this is that EQ can be learned – and, like most other skills, it can be developed and improved over time.

We’re all human

There’s a strong case and real opportunity for those in the accountancy profession to embrace their emotional intelligence and build their EQ competencies. By doing this, they’re strengthening their competitive advantage in the face of growing automation.

At ACCA, we’ve developed a unique diagnostic tool so individuals can self-assess their level of EQ against a credible global benchmark specific to the accountancy profession. The tool also provides practical guidance on how to improve effectiveness in this competency. In doing this, we’re acknowledging that we can all be better at recognising and developing our emotional intelligence.

Building effective relationships is one of the main ways we generate trust – and this applies whether you’re in politics, business, or any other sphere of human interaction.

The good news is that, rather than being something you get through a genetic lottery, emotional intelligence can be honed and cultivated – and the more you focus on it, the better it becomes.