Your negotiation style is both personal and general. Your personal style is you: how you interact and communicate with people, your personality. Imitation is suicide when you are under pressure during negotiations, so you need to decide on what works for you and how best to develop your personal competencies.

There are five recognised general styles of negotiating. Most negotiators will have a default style, but it may be useful to consider whether a different style would be more effective in the context of any particular dispute.

Avoiding

This style is most often employed by people who dislike conflict and is used:

  • To avoid interpersonal conflict;
  • When the dispute is not worth the time it would take to resolve;
  • To postpone or ignore the dispute;
  • When avoiding the dispute will not greatly affect the relationship.

Accommodating

This style prioritises the parties’ relationship, and works on the basis that the best way to win people over is to give them what they want. These negotiators are usually well liked. Characteristics include:

  • Concerned with the relationship;
  • Give concessions to strengthen the relationship but give away too much too soon;
  • Neglect their own needs to help the other side get what they want;
  • Effective when the long-term relationship is important but the short-term dispute is not.

Use if you are at fault and you must repair the relationship or when you have nothing that would benefit the other side but you need to rebuild bridges. Do not use against competitive opponents as they will see it as a sign of weakness and demand more.

Compromising

This is the style most people think of as negotiation. It is essentially haggling, and involves splitting the difference. The half-way haggle can seem “fair” in the absence of well thought out concessions. However, what this style ignores is that people that take an extreme opening position (anchoring) tend to get more of what is on offer. This style:

  • Falls between accommodating and competing, and is useful when time is an issue and/or there is a strong relationship between the parties;
  • Requires concessions from both parties;
  • Does not focus on legitimate or fair standards for settlement but instead relies on splitting the difference. Both parties win and lose. Meeting half way can reduce strain on the relationship.

When parties make concessions with no strong rationale for doing so, the other side assumes they will continue to do so. Positional bargaining (haggling) is a form of compromise negotiation and is typically seen in one-day mediations.

Collaborating

Most negotiators confuse the win-win collaboration style with the compromise style. That is incorrect. Win-win is about making sure both parties have their needs met and the aim is to create mutual value. The characteristics include:

  • Using problem solving methods to create value and discover mutual outcomes;
  • Using creativity to find solutions that will best meet the interests of all;
  • Collaborative negotiators tend to be assertive about their needs as well as cooperative;
  • Effective when both the long-term relationships and short-term dispute are important.

Be cautious using this style when dealing with a competitive negotiator. If you share information collaboratively you need to be sure that your opposite number shares information at the same level. If they do not, you run the risk of being exploited.

Competitive

These negotiators pursue their own needs regardless of consequences and will use whatever power and tactics they can to win. This style may be used:

  • To get action or results quickly, or when something is not negotiable and immediate compliance with what you want is required.
  • In the context of a single transaction negotiation where there is no ongoing relationship.

The competitive negotiator can be more interested in winning what he or she perceives as ‘the game’ than in reaching an agreement. It is dangerous to make concessions in the face of a highly-competitive negotiator thinking that you might establish goodwill. You will not. Competitive negotiators view concessions as a sign of weakness. It is not constructive to reward bullies. As is the case with all the styles discussed, the competitive style is generally used because it is the default style of the individual negotiator rather than the most effective tool to resolve the dispute.

Competitive negotiators will often play chicken: ‘Give in to my demands or …”. Strikes, lockouts, much litigation and military action are all games of chicken. The game can start because of the escalation of ultimatums and threats of demands with nobody being prepared to back down.

Published in New Zealand Law Society’s ‘LawTalk 907’ 2 June 2017.