In Learning Negotiation Styles, Social Skills Should Come First

Improving Negotiation Skills Training

By on / Negotiation Skills

How would you characterize your negotiation style: Are you collaborative, competitive, or compromising?

If you have trouble answering that question, you’re probably not alone.

That’s because skilled negotiators typically take on all these styles during a negotiation:

  • They listen closely and collaborate to create value.
  • They compete for the biggest slice of the pie.
  • They make compromises when necessary.

Putting labels on negotiation style can be a mistake in negotiation skills training, writes Marquette University Law School professor Andrea Kupfer Schneider in an article for the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.

Schneider notes that when teaching negotiation in the past, she would educate her law school students on the most common negotiation styles, debate their merits, and then urge the students to build their negotiation skills so that they could draw on various styles as a negotiation unfolds.

By contrast, these days, Schneider introduces students first to the negotiating skills that support the various negotiation styles rather than debating the effectiveness of these styles.

Rather than beginning by teaching negotiation students about various styles, negotiation instructors should encourage them to cultivate five specific skills, writes Schneider.

  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Flexibility
  • Social skills, or intuition
  • Ethics

Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Adult professionals learn better by talking first about experiences and skills, and then focusing on framework or style selection, writes Schneider.

Labeling negotiating styles – such as distributive, integrative, problem-solving, conciliatory, and so on – can help us learn general differences in how people view negotiations and behave during them, she adds.

Labels also help negotiating researchers organize their thoughts around a shared language.

On the downside, however, labeling negotiation styles can be confusing in negotiation skills training, according to Schneider.

A student who is taught that an integrative (or value-creating or collaborative) negotiating style is superior to a distributive (or value-claiming or competitive) negotiating style may have a hard time understanding why both value creation and value-claiming behaviors are helpful in negotiation.

In addition, the labels that describe various negotiation styles don’t map neatly onto the negotiation skills.

A highly competitive negotiator may belie the stereotype of this style by having a friendly demeanor and a strong sense of fairness. Moreover, many of the negotiation skills that are commonly taught in the classroom, such as researching criteria to back up fairness claims, can be used in both competitive situations and collaborative ones.

Related Negotiation Skills Posts:
In Negotiation, How Much Do Personality and Other Individual Differences Matter?
The Moral Quandary: Negotiation Exercises Featuring Ethical Dilemmas
Managers – Think Twice Before Setting Negotiation Goals
Negotiation Skills: Are You Really Ready to Negotiate?
Advanced Negotiation Master Class


Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Originally published January 22, 2013.

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One Response to “In Learning Negotiation Styles, Social Skills Should Come First”

  1. Andrew Whitehead /

    An interesting, necessarily brief article. For a compatible, more detailed characterization of the strong negotiator as an expert manager of style, see Tony English (2010) “Tug of War: The Tension Concept and the Art of International Negotiation”, Common Ground (Interdisciplinary Social Sciences), ISBN9781863356732. His analysis of field data and the negotiation literature is both scholarly and accessible. More than any other work by a scholar or practitioner, English led me to develop a refined grasp of style as a pattern of movement on a combat-collaboration continuum, along which I maneuver myself and other players, in either direction as needed. He is strong and original on the relationship between style and strategy. Dr Andrew Whitehead Reply

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