Imagine that after some negative experiences at the bargaining table or if you are frustrated in your efforts to improve your negotiation skills, you’ve started to worry that you simply don’t have the right personality to be a great negotiator let alone a value-creating, integrative negotiations expert. The other party always seems to get the upper hand, and you can’t manage to come away with a favorable deal. What can you do to improve your bargaining abilities, or should you leave negotiating to someone else?
First, the bad news: It’s true that some negotiators are better than others. Hillary Anger Elfenbein of Washington University in St. Louis and her colleagues have conducted negotiation research about negotiator success over time and across a range of partners, and find that the same individuals appear to do well again and again. Further, changing your basic negotiation style would be difficult at best. After all, a lot of psychologists would go out of business if adopting a whole new personality were a matter of sheer willpower.
How to Make the Most of Your Personality at the Negotiating Table
However, your average negotiating ability is not as uncommon or as dire as you might think. Here are three general negotiation strategies for making the most of your personality at the bargaining table:
Negotiation Strategy #1. Adapt your personality to the situation.
At its most basic level, “personality” describes the set of consistent emotions, thoughts, and behaviors you experience or engage in across a range of situations. There is no need to change your entire personality just to become a better negotiator. Instead, when the stakes are high enough, you can train yourself to draw from a repertoire reserved for specific bargaining settings.
Interestingly, Elfenbein and colleagues have found that negotiation success is associated with certain personal factors that are among the easiest to change. Notably, there is an umbrella of positive attitudes toward negotiation—such as developing confidence, feeling that it is appropriate to initiate negotiations, and believing that negotiation skills can be mastered—that improve with the kind of practice you can get in an experiential-based negotiation workshop.
In addition, great negotiators tend to take initiative without being aggressive and remain comfortable throughout the process. To increase your comfort level in the stressful context of negotiation, you might consider practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga and mindfulness training. Another way to increase your comfort level is to think of yourself as advocating on behalf of others’ interests, such as those of your coworkers or family members. This can help you put any nurturing instincts you may have in the service of getting a great deal.
Negotiation Strategy #2. Adapt the situation to your personality.
Psychologists emphasize that making the most of your personality is a matter of seeking out the situations that suit you best. Ultimately, if you don’t have a poker face, then you shouldn’t play poker. Don’t be shy about bringing a colleague or friend to do some of the hard bargaining for you.
Also, consider fostering longer-term working relationships with buyers and suppliers so that your negotiations take place within a context that is less transaction based and more focused on meeting both parties’ needs. Sometimes you can pursue alternatives that allow you to avoid negotiating altogether—witness the popularity of online sellers and the now-defunct Saturn car corporation (which went out of business for reasons other than its policy not to negotiate).
Negotiation Strategy #3. Run the numbers.
Even if you’re a kindhearted person who is averse to conflict, a careful analysis of the bargaining setting and your best alternatives to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) will prevent you from being exploited. No one ever says they wish they had been less prepared for a negotiation. Your preparation, in turn, feeds into the confidence you need to help you succeed.
How do you think personality impacts negotiation skills? Let us know in the comments section.
Related Negotiation Skills Article: Negotiation Skills – Are You Really Ready to Negotiate? – Knowing when to negotiate is as important as knowing how to negotiate. In this article we explore the concept of being mentally prepared for the bargaining process.
Adapted from “Does Personality Matter?” by Hillary Anger Elfenbein (professor, Washington University in St. Louis), first published in the Negotiation newsletter, June 2010.
Originally posted in 2011.