Adapted from “Is Your Bargaining Style Holding You Back?” First published in the Negotiation newsletter, December 2009.
Have you ever wondered if your negotiating style is too tough or too accommodating? Too cooperative or too selfish? You might strive for an ideal balance, but, chances are, your innate and learned tendencies will have a strong impact on how you negotiate. Wise negotiators seek to identify these tendencies and enhance them according to the situation.
Individual differences in “social motives,” or our preferences for certain kinds of outcomes when we interact with other people, strongly affect how we approach negotiation, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor Laurie R. Weingart. Drawing on the social motives that drive our behavior, Weingart and other psychologists have pinpointed four basic negotiating personalities:
Individualists concentrate primarily on maximizing their own outcomes and show little concern for others’ outcomes. According to studies of businesspeople and students, about half of U.S. negotiators have an individualist style. Individualists tend to claim value rather than create it, argue their positions forcefully, and, at times, make threats.
Cooperators focus on maximizing their own and their counterparts’ results. Composing about 25% to 35% of the U.S. population studied, cooperators are motivated to ensure that each party in a negotiation receives her fair share. Cooperators are more open to value-creating strategies—such as exchanging information and making multi-issue offers—than individualists are. (Note that although individualists outnumber cooperators in the United States, in other cultures, cooperators can be more prevalent than individualists.)
Competitives are motivated to maximize the difference between their own and others’ outcomes. Because of their strong desire to “win big,” competitives—about 5% to 10% of U.S. study participants—tend to engage in behavior that’s self-serving and that blocks collaborative solutions.
Altruists, a rare breed in studies of American negotiators, strive to maximize their counterparts’ outcomes rather than their own. Though few of us are pure altruists, virtually all negotiators behave altruistically under certain conditions, as when dealing with loved ones or those less fortunate than we are.
Is one negotiating style “better” than another? Most research suggests that negotiators with a primarily cooperative style are more successful than hard bargainers at reaching novel solutions that improve everyone’s outcomes. Negotiators who lean toward cooperation also tend to be more satisfied with the process and their results, according to Weingart.
At the same time, claiming value and lobbying tenaciously for your position can be equally important negotiation strategies. So, strive for balance: focus on building a cooperative relationship and creating value, then work to claim as much as you can of that value for yourself.
First published January 10, 2012, updated July 29, 2014.
Related Article: Why We Focus on Culture in Negotiations