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What Is Your Negotiation Style?

By Betsy Gardner

Maybe you’ve been called a pushover. Or a team player. Or aggressive. Or maybe you’ve been called all three! Our negotiation style can – and should – change depending on the situation. Negotiation styles aren’t static, and we are most likely to have positive negotiations if we can adapt to different situations.

There is no right or wrong negotiation style, but having awareness of the style we lean towards in different situations is key to becoming a more successful negotiator. This also means we can recognize the style our counterpart is using, information that can enhance your effectiveness in negotiations.

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For the past thirty years, the leading self-assessment for determining conflict style is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann developed the TKI to measure an individual’s behavior in a conflict situation. The five styles are placed on two dimensions: an axis of assertiveness vs an axis of cooperativeness. Assertive negotiators tend to care more about claiming substance in a negotiation, and cooperative negotiators tend to care more about preserving the relationship.

Here is an explanation of each style, along with an analysis of its pros and cons:

  • Competing

Competitive negotiators focus on pursuing their position and claiming as much value as they can from negotiation, even if it comes at the expense of the relationship with the other side. Many competitors see negotiation as a game with winners and losers – and they want to be winners. If there isn’t much value to go around and you don’t care much about the relationship, competing can be an effective style. But it can hurt relationships, which might result in the other party not sticking to the deal or problems in the future if you ever negotiate again.

  • Accommodating

Negotiators who accommodate care so much about preserving relationships that they may ignore their own needs and interests in favor of meeting those of the other side. This saves time and shows the other side that you care about their success and the relationship. But you miss out on value, and it could set a precedent where the other party constantly expects you to meet their needs at your expense.

  • Avoiding

Avoiders choose to not address the conflict by leaving it alone, withdrawing from the situation, or putting off the issue. Another time-saving style, this can be valuable for low-relationship and low-substance moments, like speaking with a telemarketer. However, this style can stem from a fear of negotiation or conflict, which leads you to miss out on opportunities to create value and improve relationships.

  • Compromising

Those who compromise seek a middle ground that requires each party to give up on some of the substance to partially satisfy both people. An efficient way to gain some value and some relationship-building, compromise can be a way for both parties to “settle.” However, a little more time investment could create more value and make everyone happier.

  • Collaborating

Collaborators work together to explore common interests and generate multiple options to create “win-win” solutions. This gets the most value for both people and helps build a trusting working relationship. Yet it is the most time-intensive style, requiring thorough preparation, knowledge, and communication skills.

Now which is yours? There are sample tests available online that have been adapted from the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument (e.g., Canadian Organizational Behavior and University of Arizona). It’s valuable to know which style you might naturally gravitate to; the ability to navigate a negotiation is reliant on opening up new ways of communicating and working together, especially if you are also able to identify your counterpart’s style.

At MWI’s Negotiation Skills Workshop, we provide the framework for a collaborative approach to negotiation. This “win-win” idea honors both the substance and the relationship, seeking to add value to the negotiation while reaching an agreement that leaves both parties satisfied. This challenges more traditional ideas about negotiation, which are often positional or focused on haggling. But if two parties enter a negotiation intent on creating more value – even if it’s value for the other side, then everyone leaves the table happy and more committed to the agreement.

This style might feel the least natural, especially if you tend towards one of the other negotiation styles. Although certain times can call for another method, the idea of adding value and creating a positive outcome is a style we can all appreciate.

Understand and Improve Your Negotiation Skills

To learn about building your team’s negotiation skills, contact Chuck Doran at 617-895-4026 or cdoran@mwi.org.

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