Negotiation Styles and Tactics for the Workplace

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Negotiation Styles and Tactics for the Workplace

Negotiation happens everyday; between partners, children, friends, siblings, neighbours – and, of course, at work.

At its most basic, negotiation involves an interaction between two or more parties who hold conflicting points of view. On top of this basic concept are overlaid the seriousness of the issue being negotiated, how disparate the views are, the parties’ relationships to one another (including uneven power dynamics), and the general environment in which the negotiations are taking place.

Because of these numerous factors at play, all negotiations require different strategies, tactics and styles. However, effective negotiation is always done with the intention of moving all parties toward a common interest, away from their polarised starting positions.

Most negotiations are a form of conflict resolution, although the conflict may not always be particularly serious or explicit. Ultimately there are three broad types of possible outcomes:

  1. A win-win – where each party feels content with the outcome.
  2. A compromise – where each party gets part of what they wanted, but hasd to relinquish some other aspect(s).
  3. A win-lose – where one party is satisfied with the outcome, while the others are not.

Perception is key here. A win-win may not technically or objectively serve each party equally, but as long as everybody feels satisfied with the outcome, each party can consider themselves a winner.

Five Difference Behaviours in Conflict

In their ground-breaking research, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann defined the five behavioural modes people use in conflict situations. Most people typically default to one mode without consciously considering whether that particular style is suitable to the situation. However, while each mode has distinct benefits, they all have disadvantages as well.

Each of us is capable of using all five modes, so instead of relying upon one style, it’s better to assess the situation (both currently and historically), understand all parties involved, and consider the interests at stake for everyone before choosing a style. Know too your style will likely change as the negotiation continues.

The five modes are:

  • Competing The aim is “to win”. On one hand, you protect your interests. On the other hand, you probably adopt a position without exploring the other party’s interests – some of which could be advantages that you hadn’t considered.
  • Avoiding The aim is “to delay”. On one hand, you postpone the negotiation until you (or the other party) are properly prepared. On the other hand, you may appear evasive to the other party which can lead to other problems, such as resentment, escalated demands, and unaddressed issues.
  • Accommodating  The aim is “to yield”. One on hand, you build social capital by helping others or apologising for past errors. On the other hand, you sacrifice your interests or opinions. If the pattern continues, it can encourage exploitation by others.
  • Compromising The aim is “to find middle ground”. One one hand, it’s pragmatic and expedient by meeting midway so each party gets something. On the other hand, if the outcome doesn’t truly resolve the situation, the conflict may flare up again, perhaps worse the second time.
  • Collaborating The aim is “to find a win-win situation”. On one hand, both parties search together for the highest quality decision. Instead of splitting the pie, they increase the size of the pie to split. On the other hand, this style requires a significant amount of time and energy, plus an openness and transparency to help the other party – which is not always possible in some complex or emotional situations.

Negotiating Differences Between Genders

When considering negotiation styles and tactics it is important to recognise that research has consistently shown that there is a disparity between how men and women negotiate. Women tend to have less successful outcomes in negotiating than men do. This manifests in the gender pay gap and the lack of women in senior workplace roles (particularly CEOs and board members). The reasons for the different negotiation styles and outcomes are not entirely settled. However it is generally understood that ingrained stereotypes mean that many women who are firm and direct in negotiating are considered “demanding” or “pushy”, while their male co-workers are celebrated as “decisive” and “uncompromising” for the same behaviour. Alternatively, women may shy away from adopting more aggressive negotiating styles because they fear backlash or because they have not had opportunities to develop firmer negotiation tactics.

There is certainly no quick fix to this complex and wide-reaching issue that affects far more than just workplace negotiation. Nonetheless, some women might find it worthwhile to keep in mind that adopting a more classically “masculine” negotiation style could reap rewards, while it would also benefit all negotiators, of any gender, to consider the value of other types of negotiation tactics, including the typically “feminine” use of compromise, which can sometimes be undervalued.

Regardless of gender, there are a few basic tips for effective negotiating which everybody can take on board.

Consider your interests. What’s your goal?

A common reason why many people don’t get what they want from negotiation is they aren’t prepared. First and foremost, you must determine what you need versus what you want. The first is a Position, the second is an Interest. Positions lock you into a Yes vs. No situation, where Interests can yield multiple solutions which service all parties.


Ask the right questions.

As much as you need to understand your objective, you also must find out what the other party needs. Whether they’re keeping information close to the vest or perhaps they’re unprepared, you won’t be able to find the best solution until the true point of conflict is revealed.

You can communicate your interest and attention through your use of the right questions. Follow up and question inconclusive statements or suggestions. If another party makes an unreasonable proposition, ask them to explain their reasoning. This not only helps you better understand their motivations, it also helps you consider other options which might move both parties to a wise and just agreement.


Listen for the message, not to the words themselves.

Effective listening is active listening. You cannot approach negotiation passively and expect it to be effective or result in satisfying outcomes. Listening to the intent of other parties’ messages will help you understand what it is they hope to get out of the negotiation, including information they may not explicitly state but merely allude to or communicate through body and facial language.

Listening carefully will also put you in good stead with the other negotiators. They will observe your interest in what they have to say and hopefully return the favour.


Be creative.

Creativity isn’t a skill people consider important to negotiating. However, the ability to invent options and alternatives is one of the most powerful assets an assertive negotiation can have. The key is brainstorming ideas in advance of the negotiation as creativity becomes significantly more difficult under pressure. Also, encourage the other party to brainstorm with you. Solutions which favour both parties tend to last longer and build a stronger relationship – which is vital for ongoing partnerships.


Adapt and remain flexible.

If you follow the points above, the last step is to remain flexible. Adapt your style to complement theirs. Never assume you have the only answer. Concede when you need to, and stick up for your interests. And, when roadblocks appear – and they will – think of them as opportunities to understand both your and their entrenched positions, and re-commit to working together to find the best outcome for all.

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