When You're Negotiating, Style is Everything

When preparing for a negotiation--whether we're selling our products or services to a client or asking our boss for a raise--we often work and rework the numbers and think endlessly about tactics and strategies. Of critical importance, but often overlooked, is the negotiating style of the individual with whom we'll be negotiating.

In today’s business world it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we're negotiating with the ABC Company when the reality is we are negotiating with people. No matter how large and diverse the organization, it always comes down to this: a person or small group of people is going to make a decision.

That being the case, we need to be able to work with different negotiating styles. Every individual has a prominent negotiating style. Being able to determine theirs and knowing up-front what to expect can produce dramatic results. Most people will fall into one of four categories: competitor, collaborator, compromiser or pleaser. As we cover each, try to identify your own style and the styles of those with whom you negotiate

Competitors do well when faced with unpopular courses of action, such as enforcing restrictive rules or bringing price increases to a customer base, or when they need to negotiate with another highly competitive individual. The competing style does, however, have its downside. Off-the-chart competitors are rigid and unyielding. They are often not finely tuned in to a clients needs and risk alienating the client.

Collaborators can be wonderful negotiators. They merge insights from different perspectives on a problem and gain commitment by incorporating those perspectives into a consensual decision. The drawbacks? Everything doesn’t deserve to be collaborated on. Collaboration takes time, energy, effort, and often money. People who can't shift out of this mode are the ones responsible for issues getting "hung up in committee" for weeks when decisions should take a few days. These people can drive you crazy.

Are you good at achieving temporary settlements to complex issues or arrive at workable solutions under time pressure? You may be a compromiser. Many middle managers in Corporate America are compromisers. This is also a great style to fall back on when the competitive style won't work. On the down side, compromisers can concentrate so heavily on the practicalities and tactics of compromise that they sometimes lose sight of larger issues, such as principles, values, and long-term objectives.

A common style found in the sales profession today is the pleaser. The pleaser's main attribute is the ability to be pleasant – to project niceness –To build relationships. It's their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. This style lends itself to situations in which a salesperson will do whatever it takes to satisfy customer needs or extend good will. The pleaser is especially adept at preserving harmony and avoiding disruption in business situations.

The drawback, however, is that they can allow themselves to be abused. It's hard for classic pleasers to exert themselves in head-to-head negotiating situations, and as a result, they are often guilty of backing down .  With a salesperson they might leave company profits "on the table." With a businessperson, they might not press as hard as they might for that raise, or adding a staff member.

One clue to determining your style and the style of others is to look at what I call your stiffness index--how quickly you acquiesce, or bend-- in a negotiating situation.

Competitor - Stiff, unyielding, uncompromising. Very little give.

Collaborator - Willing to bend, but sticking up for what they believe at the same time. Willing to take the time, energy, and creativity to come up with a mutually acceptable solution.

Compromiser - Bending fairly easily. Quick to find common ground.

Pleaser - As a negotiator, you're on shaky ground here. You'll be regarded as a good guy, but have a tendency to give away too much.

Key Point. Far more important than your style is your flexibility.
It's your ability to be flexible with the situation and react accordingly that determines your effectiveness as a negotiator. There are times throughout the day when each style might be appropriate. As you prepare for negotiating a sale and evaluate your counterpart's style, or even when you have begun the process, ask yourself, "Which style will serve me best in this situation?"

This question shapes your thinking over time. You'll find yourself shifting gears--adapting to situations and individuals--to achieve your goals. That flexibility is the mark of a truly good negotiator.

Click here to download a printable PDF version of this post.