Five negotiation styles: an overview 

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Five negotiation styles: an overview

Before we proceed to explain the different negotiation styles it is important to note two things. First, people tend to prefer a style. This does not mean that they can use other styles. In fact, with practice people can effectively use different negotiation styles. Second, there is no best universal negotiation style. The best style to use differs from negotiation to negotiation.

There are five negotiation styles: accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing and compromising.

People often ask "which is the best negotiating style?" As with much management theory there is no single 'best' or 'right' approach. All five profiles of dealing with conflict are useful in different situations. Although we're capable of using all five, most of us tend to have one or two preferred negotiation conflict styles that we use unconsciously in most conflict situations. Why? Either because our preferred styles have worked for us in the past, or because of our temperament (nature) or because of our upbringing (nurture).

So if you're involved in business negotiations, which negotiation styles are likely to reward you with the biggest profit prizes? This question will be answered later. First let's consider each of these important negotiation styles.

Competing / Compete (I win - You lose) / Hard bargaining

Individuals who prefer the competing style of negotiation see negotiation as a game that must be won at any cost. It is an ideal style when dealing with negotiation where lasting relationships are not very important. However, when preservation of the relationship is an issue, the competing style of negotiation is less suited.

In hard bargaining, each party tries to achieve their aims without making concessions or making only few or small ones. The aim is to 'beat' the other side.

Competitive style negotiators pursue their own needs - yes, even when this means others suffer. They usually don't want to cause others to suffer and lose, they are just so narrowly focused on their shorter term gains that they plunder obliviously through negotiations like a pirate. They often use whatever power and tactics they can muster, including their personality, position, economic threats, brand strength or size or market share. At its extreme negotiators call their behaviour aggressive or psychotic.

When to use?

When you need to act or get results quickly. Competition is critical when you are certain that something is not negotiable and immediate compliance is required.

What's the Danger?

The difficulty with people who are high compete (which a large percentage of buyers are) is that competitive styles overuse competition. This means that the other party knows exactly what behaviour to expect and can prepare more easily. In a negotiation of roughly equal power, high compete behaviour is very likely to lead to deadlock - which will get you nowhere. They may also be more interested in "winning" rather than reaching an agreement.. So if a relationship is important to you, and if your market reputation is important, then be careful to curb your competition.

Self Defense

The most important thing to remember is: Don't Cave In! Some people say that they make concessions in the face of a competitive negotiator demanding a concession - in order to create goodwill. Don't listen to these self deluders, they're bleeding profits. Appeasing competitive negotiators doesn't create goodwill - it just creates requests for more concessions. What's more, a competitive style negotiator will see you as weak, and come back for more. Restate your position firmly using strong language (not 'we'd like' or 'want', but rather: 'we require' or 'need') and never reward bullies.

Accommodating /Accommodate (I Lose - You Win)

Individuals who negotiate with an accommodating style put great value and emphasis on preserving the relationship. It is a great style when in negotiation with a recurring party (say a recurring trade partner) however, it is less ideal to use when chances are high you will only negotiate once with this party.

It is the opposite of competing. For accommodating style negotiators, the relationship is everything. Accommodating profiles think that the route to winning people over is to give them what they want. They don't just give products and services, they are generous with information too. Accommodators are usually very well liked by their colleagues and opposite party negotiators.

When to use?

When you or your company are at fault, repairing the relationship is critical, and if you have nothing else that would benefit the other party. i.e. an olive branch or gift to rebuild bridges.
If you are in a very weak position then sometimes your best option is to give in gracefully. Think about it: if they can crush you, and they know it, what is likely to be the outcome if you resist? It may be worth (humbly) reminding them that you will both stand to lose if they put you out of business, and ask if they really want to push you out of that market. If you both intend to work together in the longer term, then refocus the negotiations on the longer term, thereby reminding the other negotiation party that their taking advantage of you now may hurt them in the future.

What's the Danger?

It is almost always a bad idea to accommodate when negotiating against high compete styles. With high compete negotiators your generosity will be seen as a sign of weakness to be taken advantage of.
Giving away value early in the negotiation can leave you with a poor hand to play in the rest of the negotiation.
Giving away value too easily too early can signal to your negotiation counterpart that you've very deep pockets, and your gift is just a taster of bigger and better gifts to come.
Warning: some of the faulty thinking that puts accommodators into negotiation damage control is thinking that because the goal is unimportant to you, it must have little value to the other party. Remember to do your homework by asking the value of your concession to the other party before making your trade or concession.

Self Defense

When someone is offering you a gift at the negotiation table, do you humbly accept their generosity? Be careful, as theirs may be a proverbial 'Greek Gift' - i.e. they may be luring you into reciprocation, obliging you to give back something of greater value in return. So keep in mind the value of the item being given - the relative value to both sides. You also need to be careful that they are not an incompetent negotiator, making big concessions that jeopardizes the viability of their business, or agreeing a deal that their managers will later veto. If they go bust because they are giving away too much, you could both end up losing.

Avoiding /Avoid (I Lose - You Lose)

This style is used by parties who dislike negotiation and tend to avoid it. When trapped in a negotiation, parties will tend to concede swiftly and have little initiative. This can be viewed as diplomatic. The downside is that avoiding parties will not be very likely to obtain a satisfactory result in the negotiation.

This is most often referred to as "passive aggressive". People who habitually use this style really dislike conflict. Rather than talk directly with you about the issue, avoiders may instead try to take revenge without you knowing about it. The avoid style can be a typical reaction to high compete negotiators.

When to use?

When the value of investing time to resolve the conflict outweighs the benefit; or if the issue under negotiation is trivial (trivial to both parties). If there is a lot of emotion in a negotiation, it's pointless pushing through and hammering it out. Better to allow people to calm down first, let the testosterone hormone leave everyone's system first so that reason and rationality can reappear. At that point an avoid style is likely the most pragmatic alternative - suggest a timeout of 15-20 minutes.
What to do when you're dragged into a negotiation unprepared? Under these circumstances, avoidance is probably the most sensible strategy. Either avoid the meeting, or avoid discussing the issues upon which you need to prepare.

What's the Danger?

Whoever has the greater urgency will usually end up with the short end of the avoidance stick. Stalling is a common sales tactics, when sales / the vendor knows that procurement needs their product or service yesterday.
Conversely a buyer may hold out until the last day of the a quarter or month, knowing that the sales person needs to meet his or her target. So be careful about what information you reveal about the urgency of your need.

When communication channels are cut off, you leave the other party to fill in the blanks. They may believe you need more time, or may think that you're no longer interested in a business relationship with them, resulting in their approaching your competition, or contemplating downsizing.

Self Defense

Set clear expectations of timing early on in your negotiations. Understand their decision making process and levels of responsibility. Having these insights can assist you in invalidating their reasons for avoiding, and will make your sharp questions more difficult to side-step. Escalation options will also be clearer to you.
If you have a good enough relationship, then agree a process on resolving differences. As John F. Kennedy was quoted as having said: "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."


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