Negotiation Styles

At their heart, all negotiations are an attempt to address and resolve conflicts. So, it should be no surprise that insights into interpersonal conflict can shed light on negotiation practices as well.

By evaluating participants on two metrics, assertiveness and cooperativeness (potentially using a diagnostic tool like the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument), they can be grouped into five broad “styles” of negotiation. Adopters of each style will be predisposed to handle conflicts, including negotiations in distinct and identifiable ways.

We all have a negotiation style, or maybe two, that we default to. Rooted in our preferred conflict management styles, they are often deeply ingrained habits, developed over the course of our lives, and difficult to change. With practice though, you can actively choose to adopt another negotiation style. Negotiator traits can make a big difference during the negotiation process.

The Five Negotiation Styles

Negotiation styles fall into five categories, dependent on how assertive and cooperative they are. Each style will favor a certain approach to negotiations, and has strategic strengths and weaknesses.

Competing

Competitors who are assertive but uncooperative treat the negotiation as a competition. Competitors use their power as a means of achieving victory, and are less concerned with maintaining the relationship between the negotiators.

They may be individualists, narrowly focused on achieving their own goals, but at their worst, competitors try to dominate their opponents. When competitors stop focusing on themselves, they start comparing their outcomes to the other side, attempting to maximize the difference, rather than achieving their goals or claiming available value.

Accommodating

The Altruist is the opposite of the Competitor. Rather than looking out for their own interests, the altruist is concerned with how they can accommodate the other party. They are cooperative, but unassertive, leading to generosity and self-sacrifice. While very good effective in caring for relationships between parties, Altruists risk losing track of their own interests in an effort to please people.

Collaborating

The Problem-Solver tackles negotiations like an engineer. There are goals that both sides want to accomplish, and with the right plan it should be possible. These negotiators are clear about what they want, and not afraid to pursue it, but they also try to include the other party in the final plan.

The collaborative style is the bedrock of principled negotiations, where both sides look to create value with open communication and creative solutions. While this can be rewarding for both sides, the process is often long and complicated. Collaboration can be exhausting for other negotiators, especially those who are satisfied with simpler approaches.

Avoiding

Dodgers are neither assertive enough to pursue their own interests, nor cooperative enough to help others. The result is that nothing gets done and the conflict is avoided altogether. This could be done with a diplomatic sidestep, or by postponing an issue until a “better time”.

While there are times when delaying or avoiding can be strategically sound, avoiding conflict repeatedly often leads to greater conflict down the road. Left unchecked, avoidance can fester into passive-aggressive behavior as parties seek unilateral solutions.

Compromising

Compromisers fall in the middle of both axes and form a distinct style of their own. These Compromisers go into negotiations trying to quickly agree on a deal that is acceptable to both sides, which fosters ongoing trust between the parties. This mindset can balance amiability and with expedience, allows business to carry on indefinitely and unremarkably. Compromised solutions can be lazy or half-baked though, and sometimes (as Solomon would point out) the obvious middle ground leaves both parties worse off.

Negotiation Styles Chart

Negotiation Style and Approach Distinguished

They may sound similar, negotiation style is not the same thing as a negotiation approach. While your style reflects who you are and how you prefer to deal with conflict, a negotiation approach results from a number of factors. Negotiation style is an important component, but so are bargaining positions, the social context, and the stakes.

Competitors may naturally gravitate towards a hard approach, while Altruists will be more likely to be soft negotiators. These are tendencies though, not mandates; even an Dodger can take a hard approach, if they are willing to push their boundaries of comfort a little.

While Problem-Solvers may naturally be suited to adopt a principled approach to negotiations, they still need to be familiar with the techniques, or they will likely find themselves unhappily vacillating between hard and soft approaches.

Negotiation Style and Tips

  • The time required to negotiate some issues is not worth the resulting agreement. Dodgers should seek out and be assigned to these situations, where their proneness to sidestep is beneficial.
  • Be careful that an opposing Altruist isn’t offering you a concession they can’t afford to make (or that you can’t afford to receive) in an effort to please.
  • If you’re prone to being competitive, don’t get so caught up in the heat of the moment that you forget your negotiation goals. You can still lose, even when you “win”.
  • Don’t let your instinct to strike a fair deal become a lazy habit of splitting the difference.
  • Problem-Solvers should not assume that the other side will be as enthusiastic or capable of pursuing a principled negotiation.
  • If you know your negotiation style will be ill-suited for an upcoming negotiation, consider having another member of your team, or even an outside agent, take on the task. These situations demonstrate the benefit of having different negotiation styles within a team.

Typical vs Principled Negotiation

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