Planning for Negotiation: The “Who” Side

In our last blog, we showed you the One-Minute Negotiation Planner. It’s great for what it is: a tool designed to keep you from being ambushed.

You may have noticed, though, that it was concerned only with what YOU wanted from the negotiation. By definition, it was very limited. I want you to have it in your toolbox, but it’s not supposed to replace a real negotiation planning session. That’s what we’re going to begin today.

When you’re planning for a negotiation, you have two areas to consider:

  • WHO are you negotiating with?
  • And WHAT issues are you negotiating?

There’s actually a lot to cover here. This week, we’ll look at the first part of the “who” side of the equation.

When you’re dealing with the “who” side of planning, you have two areas to consider: style and drivers. Today we talk about style.

You hear a lot of talk these days about someone being a “tough negotiator” or “hard to deal with.” More often than not, that statement has more to do with style than with whether the person is truly a tough negotiator.

In negotiation, everyone has what I call a “mask.” Their mask is the face they show to the world—for instance, whether they are easy or difficult to deal with. Some people are gruff in negotiations: never smiling, sometimes shouting, always unpleasant. That’s their mask, the face they present when they negotiate.

As a rule in Western culture, most good negotiators are pleasant: smiling, good listeners, never unpleasant even when they disagree on a point. That’s theirmask. They’ve learned what my dad used to tell me: “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Going beyond that, the best criterion to use in describing a negotiator is not style, but results—how much they give away. I refer to this as their rigidityindex. How willing are they to bend in order to meet the needs of others? That said, most people describe (and label) negotiators not by their actual results but by the particular mask they wear.

In our sessions, we teach people how to measure someone’s “rigidity index” by how much they give away in a negotiation, and we link that to style. Here are a few common styles:

  • The Competitor. The competitive person gives away very little. They’re very high on the “stiffness” index. Their natural style could be described as “I win; you lose.”
  • The Accommodator. This negotiator is on the other end of the scale. Their style might be described as “I’m willing to lose and let you win.” (Think this is uncommon? Most business teams contain a high percentage of accommodators.)
  • The Compromiser. This is a common style. A compromiser might say, “Let’s live and let live. Why don’t we just split the difference?”
  • The Avoider. Corporate America has a lot of these. An avoider is just what the name implies. They put off decisions, won’t make commitments, like to refer things to committees, and are generally hard to nail down.

Here’s something worth noting: Each of the above negotiators can be wonderfully engaging and pleasant to do business with, or dreadfully unpleasant—a real pain to endure. Their relative willingness to be pleasant has everything to do with the mask we mentioned earlier. But their real negotiation style has everything to do with that rigidityindex we also talked about—their willingness to bend a little.

This brings us to a rather schizophrenic-sounding approach that can work beautifully for a negotiator:

Be like Mother Teresa on the outside and Attila the Hun on the inside.

Here’s another way to say it: You can be quite affable and pleasant to do business with, and still be very tough when it comes to giving away the company’s money.

Here’s a link to an article about negotiating style that you might find interesting:

Competitor to Pleaser: Understanding Negotiating Personalities

Bear in mind that the study of style doesn’t just apply to the other person. Your style is important, too. If you are an accommodator, keep this in mind and be aware that you tend to give away too much, too fast. If you’re a competitor, bear this in mind and be aware that you tend to run over people and can come across as bullying and aggressive.

As interesting as style is when you’re studying the people, or “who,” side of negotiation, it’s only half the story. Next week, we’ll look at drivers, and that’s when the real fun starts. When you get good at understanding what drives the other party, negotiation starts to fall into place because, as you’ll discover, Drivers Dictate Strategy!

Have a good week.

Bob