Ever wonder why some negotiators approach the situation from completely different viewpoints and with others it goes easily and smoothly?  It might be that they have similar or very different styles. Without awareness of one’s own style, and idea of what style a negotiation counterpart brings and the advantages and disadvantages of working with differing styles, it may make for a bumpier road to successful outcomes.

Negotiators have a tendency to negotiate from one of five styles: competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, or collaborative. These are adapted from Thomas Kilmann’s conflict styles and tend to correlate well in negotiation, especially given that there is sometimes tension when two or more parties are trying to meet their differing or conflicting needs.

Substance/Relationship

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According to observation over the last two decades of hundreds of negotiator behaviors and perspectives and confirmed through negotiation literature, generally people approach negotiations from one of these five styles and exhibit the certain characteristics.

Competing: Negotiators that exhibit this style are assertive, self-confident, and focused on the deal and results. These individuals tend to pursue their own concerns, sometimes at their counterpart’s expense, and in the extreme can become aggressive and domineering. On the assertive vs. cooperative scale, this style is higher in assertiveness and lower in cooperativeness. Using the substance vs. relationship axes, competing negotiators tend to be more focused on the substance than the relationship.

Avoiding: Negotiators that exhibit this style are generally less assertive and apprehensive. They prefer to avoid stepping into or creating tension. They stay neutral, objective or removed from the situation or leave responsibility to their counterpart.  The individual does not immediately pursue their own interests or those of the other person and there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode. This style is low in assertiveness and in cooperativeness, and not focused on either the substance of the agreement or the relationship.

Accommodating: Negotiators that exhibit this style focus on maintaining relationships with the other party. They tend to smooth over tensions, minimize differences, and are most concerned with maintaining a good rapport and satisfying the needs of the other party. This style is lower in assertiveness and higher in cooperativeness. These negotiators tend to emphasize the relationship as more important than the substance of the agreement.

Compromising: Negotiators that exhibit this style often split the difference, exchange concessions, and seek a quick middle-ground solution, which tends to end in moderate satisfaction of both parties’ needs.  This style is intermediate in assertiveness and cooperativeness and more focused on creating a decent agreement relatively efficiently while maintaining some relationship.

Collaborating: Negotiators that exhibit this style are often honest and communicative. They focus on finding novel and creative solutions that fully satisfy the concerns of all parties, and suggest many ideas for consideration before deciding. This style is high in assertiveness and in cooperativeness, promoting both the relationship and the substance of the agreement at hand as very important. These negotiators tend to value taking the time to create optimal long-term outcomes over efficiency and leaving value on the table.

All styles serve, and each has advantages and risks. And sometimes one style may be more useful in certain situations than in others. For example, as an accommodating negotiator, one should recognize that with more transactional discussions, they may not need to take as much time to build a relationship, if the deal works with their own interests. On the other hand, if they are negotiating with someone they will be involved with for the long-term, whether that is a new client or recent hire at the company, they will want to work on ways to develop a strong working relationship and strive for the best deal to avoid setting a bad precedent.

In order to be the most effective negotiator, one must recognize one’s own tendency, assess as best as possible their counterpart’s style, and adjust their own to allow for smoother negotiations.

In general, if negotiators strive for using a collaborative style, they incorporate the relationship focus of an accommodating style, the assertiveness on own needs of a competitive style, the caution and observational skills of the avoiding style, and value maximization often neglected by the compromising style. While the collaborative style may not make sense in all negotiations, this mode can be especially effective with business situations because of the long-term nature of the relationships internally and externally, as well as the need for strong substantive negotiation outcomes.

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