How High is Your Procurement ‘EI’? by Kelly Barner

Posted on November 12, 2012


One of the best things about being active in social networking is that people ask you questions you don’t know the answer to. I never mind admitting to not having an answer, but like to follow that response with, “let me see what I can find out…” I was recently asked what I knew about emotional intelligence with regard to purchasing and procurement. I had read about emotional intelligence, and a quick Google search turned up a number of articles connecting the concept to our profession.

What is your EQ and how important is it to your success?


But first things first. What is emotional intelligence? Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence (EI) as “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”[1] The key here is that while traditional intelligence is based on logic and reason, emotional intelligence is based on the ability to perceive subjective dynamics in individuals and groups. You might describe it as a ‘soft’ skill: certainly not something you can take a class in. As procurement moves away from tactical responsibilities, it will be our ability to excel in these soft areas that will determine our capacity for success.

All of the articles I found in my search agreed that EI is (or will be) necessary for success in procurement. Each author suggested ways to apply the skill in different scenarios. Assuming the progression towards procurement being a strategic function in the organization continues, we will become relationship managers more than anything else – both internally and externally – and will rely heavily on our ability to handle the emotions and reactions of the people we work with.

EI and Stakeholders

Procurement has long had to accept the fact that business owners in the organization sometimes don’t want to work with us and often don’t like the changes we bring to their processes and sources of supply. Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t enable us to prevent them from reacting emotionally, but helps us understand the reactions. Understanding the cause of their resistance allows us to react constructively. Stakeholders may be afraid of looking like they did a poor job managing the category in the past, or worried about having to manage the implementation of a new supplier. Since it is our responsibility to make the entire project a success, diagnosing and resolving stakeholder anxiety falls within the scope of each project.

EI in Negotiations

In the Wikipedia definition of emotional intelligence, we see that this is an active soft skill. While being able to read the emotions of others is critical, controlling the feelings of self and others is the real goal. Both are important in a negotiation. Possessing sufficient self-control to mask reactions to an offer is a classic trait found in strong negotiators. The greater challenge, and therefore the opportunity to apply our emotional intelligence, is in leveraging the emotions of the other party. Every negotiation strategy needs to be tailored to the other party’s communication style. Will the outcome be improved if you are assertive, approving, quiet, or openly skeptical? Taking the time to determine the best approach may also uncover possible gains based on appropriately matching team members during a negotiation to get the right combination of styles.

Strengthening your Emotional Intelligence

Much like my reaction to the emotional intelligence question in the first place, if you don’t know how to improve your EI, you are best served by admitting as much and making it an overt part of your planning process. When preparing for a stakeholder meeting, ask yourself what each person’s view of the situation is likely to be and watch for cues that indicate anxiety or frustration. When you see them, try to diagnose the cause and respond to that rather than to the anxiety or frustration itself. If you are strategizing for a coming negotiation, document what you know about each person you will face across the table and make that part of your approach.

As is the case with other soft skills, increasing your EI is a long term process. Fortunately, so is the transition of each procurement group from tactical to strategic. By including it in your development plan and annual review process you should get credit for being aware of your capabilities and taking a forward-looking perspective on your own ‘soft’ skills development.

Additional Reading:

Paul Snell ‘Clever is No Longer Enough’ CPO Agenda: Winter 2011/12

Emotional intelligence in procurement’ The Young Sourceror: Nov 16 2011

Jonathan Webb ‘What skills does a successful category manager need?’ Procurement Intelligence Unit: 22 July 2010


Editor’s Note: A 2012 Supply & Demand Chain Executive ‘Pro to Know’ for her (and partner Cindy Allen-Murphy’s) incredible work in both informing and empowering procurement professionals the world over through the Buyers Meeting Point website, Kelly Barner is a regular contributor to the Procurement Insights Blog.


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