A perennial topic of fascination for negotiators is the question of style – put simply, the manner in which we negotiate. Broadly speaking there are two approaches behaviourally – competitive, or collaborative. They can be influenced by all sorts of factors, such as context, innate preference, learned behaviours, mirroring, the power balance in the relationship – the list goes on.
Many negotiators will readily agree that their commercial interests are best served by being collaborative. After all, if we want a long and productive relationship with a supplier or customer, leaving them feeling that they’ve lost out or been out-manoeuvred seems at best a counter-intuitive proposition. At worst, they’ll be waiting by the school gates to get us back. With their bigger brother. Who bought fireworks on the school trip to France. And nobody wants that.
If we want to be collaborative, recognising the longer terms interests we represent, then thinking about the behaviours that influence our negotiating style is sensible. Being open breeds trust, which is valuable. Being comfortable with the other party’s opinions – even where you disagree – is likely to keep the tension lower, again scoring useful points in terms of fostering collaborative partnership. An ability to rise above the fray and remain emotionally detached will aid our ability to navigate a course through a complex negotiation – and if both parties can achieve this, cooperative behaviour is certainly more likely an outcome.
Recognising these behaviours is one thing, of course. Pinning down where the behaviour that can drive competitive behaviour originates can prove more of a challenge, however. After all, behaviour tends to breed behaviour. I spent more than 20 years negotiating commercially, all the while telling myself that it was the other side of the table driving adversarial behaviour. I was convinced (quite bizarrely, as my partner will attest) that I was collaborative to the point of being conflict-averse. And then, a few short years ago, I took a personality profiling test specifically designed for business use. The questions were a doddle. Going through the outputs of that, the facilitator working with me commented (very mildly) that my results suggested that I was a good deal more conflict hungry than the average respondent. Well. With no small amount of relish, I rolled up my sleeves and launched into a shock-and-awe assault on the absurdity of such an outrageous calumny. About 4 or 5 minutes into my diatribe, the penny dropped.
Of course, many of us enjoy higher levels of self-awareness than I did – and that’s good. Equally, recognising that there may be occasions where we are driving the behaviours we’re holding the other party responsible for can be a valuable insight into taking concrete action to move our negotiations forward. I for one am happy to report that my minor 20-year or so lapse seems to be a glitch that I’m ironing out quite nicely. And I double dare you to disagree…