Post No.: 0442
We last looked at reacting to ultimatums in Post No.: 0375. Here, we’ll go through the most common negotiation styles.
Competitive – win-lose. Has a high concern for getting what one wants, but a low concern for building relationships or letting others get what they want. Wants to take everything and concede nothing.
Avoiding – lose-lose. Has a low concern for getting what one wants, and a low concern for building relationships or letting others get what they want. Doesn’t like direct confrontation.
Collaborative – win-win. Has a high concern for getting what one wants, and a high concern for building relationships and letting others get what they want. Seeks to expand the pie first, then share it.
Accommodating – lose-win. Has a low concern for getting what one wants, but a high concern for building relationships and letting others get what they want. Can be too kind for their own good.
Compromising – win some/lose some-win some/lose some. Has a medium concern for getting what one wants, and a medium concern for building relationships and letting others get what they want. Tends to like the middle ground.
These are simplifications and there’s no single negotiation style that’s absolutely better or worse than any other for every situation. But it’s useful to know what your preferred/default style is, to recognise all of these styles if/when your counterpart uses them against you, and to learn to use at least another couple of styles you’re comfortable with too.
A ‘competitor’ isn’t relationship-oriented but very results-oriented. They’re not that interested in the issues or the other party’s interests. There’s an obsessive focus on winning and pursuing their own (narrowly-focused, short-term) needs. They’re not usually actively out to make the other party suffer but they just don’t care about them – at the extreme, they can be aggressive or psychopathic. They’ll claim any power/leverage they can for themselves, including using intimidation, hardball tactics, a false sense of urgency, false choices or false equivalencies, or even bluffing (which is only a small step from lying). They like to maintain the perception that they’re in control, and like asserting the ‘fairness’ of their own position while stressing the weaknesses of their counterpart’s position a lot.
This can be a good style if you need to get results quickly and you’re certain something is non-negotiable, and immediate compliance is required. It can also be necessary if your counterpart is also competitive or the context is normally competitive (e.g. trading commodities). A bit of competitiveness will be required at some point in almost every negotiation. This style can also be more appropriate in one-off deals; although not with pending services since the other party’s level of service may drop (e.g. they may live up to the letter but not spirit of the contract) if they think you’ve bullied them into a deal. If your market reputation or an ongoing relationship is important though then this negotiation style isn’t ideal. Opportunities for joint gains can also be missed if you’re solely focused on yourself, and seeing a negotiation as a ‘win-lose’ game often makes it one, which leads to more impasses, lost deals and damaged relationships – hence it’s best to use a blended approach.
The predictability of this style helps you to more easily prepare against a competitive negotiator. Never cave in to competitors! This won’t generate goodwill with these types as they’ll see you as weak and just demand more requests for concessions later. Reassert your position firmly by using assertive language and never reward bullies.
An ‘avoider’ is passive-aggressive. They have a strong dislike for direct conflict or disagreement hence actively try to sidestep or even ignore conflicting issues – this may feel good in the short-term but avoiding things seldom makes them go away (although on the rare occasion, time alone can solve some problems). Instead of talking directly about an issue, they might secretly take revenge instead! They prefer to work with less competitive types.
This negotiation style can be useful if you’re comfortable with the status quo because making yourself unavailable can be a tactic to use up time, frustrate and create urgency for the other party – consequently, they may offer you concessions to get the ball rolling. Avoidance can also be more sensible than acting hastily if something is too trivial (to both parties otherwise one party may escalate matters) to risk making a big deal out of it. Whomever has the greater urgency will usually end up worst off because the avoider can exploit their urgency – thus be careful about what information you reveal about the urgency of your need. But avoidance can cause the other party to make assumptions (e.g. that you just need more time, when expressing a clear rejection from the start would’ve been better), or they might think you’re no longer interested (which results in them approaching your competition instead). Mutual resentment is likely to build, thus avoidance can ironically increase conflicts, and the relationship can be needlessly harmed.
If faced with an avoider, set clear expectations of timing early, with detailed milestones and dates. Research and understand their level of responsibility – are you talking to the right person and do they have preferred channels for approaching them? Knowing these can also assist you in invalidating their reasons for avoiding you, make your questions more difficult to sidestep, and make the escalation options clearer. If the relationship is robust enough then agree on a process for resolving your differences, and do this when you’re both on a good day.
A ‘collaborator’ is relationship-oriented yet also results-oriented. This negotiation style is at times cooperative, at other times competitive – often flipping rapidly between these states depending on what the situation calls for. They’re happy to work with others and willing to invest the time and energy to fully develop information, to understand the issues, facts, interests of all the parties, the ‘what ifs’, and find innovative solutions – all in order to discover if there’s any additional value to be found and to work out the possible resultant deal. Yet they’re happy to compete for the proceeds from this process too. So their goal is to disclose all information jointly to create value, yet also claim their share of that value once created. ‘Win-win’ is about making sure all parties have their needs met, and that as much mutual value as can be created is created. They’re adamant that their needs must be met and acknowledge that the other party has needs that must be met too, and they’re expert negotiators who are confident that they can expand the pie and that there’ll be more value to share out later on.
This is a great style to open with for most business-to-business negotiations. If the ongoing relationship and your market reputation are vital then it’s best to think of all the ways you can build a more trusting and collaborative working relationship together. Best be open that you want all parties to employ a collaborative style. Don’t collaborate with competitive types though, unless they’ve agreed to and will live up to your agreed rules of collaboration (e.g. ‘I’ll only give you this if you give me that’) – treat diehard competitors in a transactional manner because that’s how they’ll treat you.
Two collaborators can do magnificent things as they tear into a difficult problem! But don’t invest too much time unless there’s value to be had. And if the other party starts to switch to competing for a piece of the pie too early, be prepared to pause the negotiation and have words, or revert to another style to counter it.
An ‘accommodator’ is highly relationship-oriented, possibly to their own detriment. They’re very willing to address the issues and the other party’s interests. They have tremendous social skills and feel the need to solve other people’s problems with/for them hence they’re generally well liked and make great teammates. The relationship takes priority over all else, but they over-simplistically think the way to win people over is to give them what they want – including conceding power/leverage. They can thus be exploited, especially by the highly competitive (so never accommodate them). In negotiations, an accommodator needs to be more of a self-actualising giver otherwise it’s self-defeating.
This style is appropriate if your side is at fault, repairing the relationship is paramount, and you’ve nothing else to offer that’d compensate the other side. If you’re clearly in the weaker position and the other party knows it can crush you then sometimes the self-preservation option is to give in gracefully – but if both parties intend to work together in the future then refocus the negotiations on the longer-term and remind them that you’ll both lose if they take advantage of you now because this approach will hurt them in the future too.
Accommodation can promote harmonious relationships but there are many other ways to create them too that don’t involve giving everything away or losing out. Certainly never give anything you cannot afford to give, and don’t take anything from an accommodator that they cannot afford to give either if the relationship needs to last, because if they go bust then you could both end up losing in the long-term.
A ‘compromiser’ usually thinks an agreement can always, sooner or later (preferably sooner), be made if only the parties just met somewhere in the middle. They tend to think that splitting the difference constitutes ‘fairness’ in the absence of a good rationale or considerately exchanged concessions – but this means that the party with the most extreme starting position tends to get more of what’s on offer! (Therefore calculate early on who stands to gain if it comes down to splitting the difference.) They can feel frustrated if the other side wants to work on a problem, precisely because they think the answer is right in front of them, in the middle somewhere. They’re therefore vulnerable to those who can and will stall for time, and will use their frustration against them to extract more concessions from them.
This can be an okay negotiation style if you’re pushed for time and are dealing with someone you trust. Meeting halfway can reduce strain on a relationship but usually leaves unrealised value on the table because the parties are neglecting the differential valuations of different parts of the deal for the different parties. Compromises cheat both sides out of more innovative solutions. It can be the only way to seal a deal if both parties have nothing left to offer though. Both parties win and lose a bit but ensure you win and lose the right things – never compromise on the things you absolutely must have. If others know you like to compromise then they’ll start with ever greater initial demands – you could respond with your own extreme position, but large disparities between opening positions can result in more drawn-out deadlocks or missed deals. So best to quickly bring their opening position back to reality.
Novices and the ill-prepared tend to compromise. Novices also usually try to resolve one issue at a time, but there’s more opportunity for lateral thinking if both parties trade across goals and interests. So stay with the problem/opportunity for longer and don’t give in to splitting the difference until all other options have been explored.
…Your negotiation style can define whether you grind into impasses or create value and enduring relationships. People can have overlapping styles and not everyone will behave the same way on different days or in different situations – but recognising these styles when they appear will reveal the other party’s strategy. The best style and strategy to use depends on the style and strategy of the other party – so be adaptable.
Woof! Negotiation isn’t just about knowing and mastering your own style(s), or recognising and dealing with different styles in your counterparts (which takes time and experience) though – it’s also about detailed preparation, information-gathering, analysis skills, creative thinking, patience and perseverance.