Don’t Fall Victim to the Competitive Negotiation Style
Learn how to adjust your negotiating style and defend yourself against competitive tactics.
Do nice negotiators have a tendency to finish last – or “lose” more often – in their negotiations?
And if so, how can they protect themselves from this trend and be more effective?
This is a common dilemma for many nice negotiators. When faced with an aggressive and competitive negotiator, should they try to compete back or use their naturally more cooperative style?
Let me start by dispelling the myth that a cooperative style leads to losing more often in all their negotiations. In fact, a more cooperative style will often be more positive than a no-holds-barred competitive style.
This is particularly true over the long term in:
- Negotiations that occur between parties who want a future relationship. For instance, a relationship develops between family members and/or business partners.
- Other situations involving non-zero-sum issues, where more for one side is not necessarily less for the other, and where a creative approach should help both sides expand the pie.
Time for precaution
What negotiations are similar and what can cooperative negotiators do to avoid being exploited?
Overall, cooperative negotiators need to be especially wary in situations in which:
- Their counterparts don’t really care about a future relationship between the parties. For example, if you are purchasing a used car and the salesperson appears to be your friend, but really starts playing good cop/bad cop or using pressure tactics like imposing short deadlines.
- Zero-sum issues dominate the negotiation agenda. When your counterpart is selling his company, and wants to retire on the proceeds, they only care about maximising their all-cash sale price.
- Their counterparts use an aggressive adversarial or competitive style to the negotiation and view it through a win-lose/competitive mindset.
In these kinds of situations, what should cooperative negotiators do?
Should initially evaluate the situation and determine if you’re more naturally cooperative approach – if reciprocated by your counterpart – would more effectively lead to your achieving your goals.
Other factors to consider include:
- The value of your future negotiation relationship. The more powerful the future relationship between the parties, the more a cooperative style will be effective.
- The number of issues. The more issues which are on the table, the more a cooperative style will be effective.
- The zero-sum nature of the issues. When there are more zero-sum issues, the less effective a cooperative style.
Solution: Reach into your toolkit
Based on these factors, if you determine that a more cooperative style works better but your counterpart appears competitive, reach into your negotiation toolkit and consider how you might persuade your counterpart to be more cooperative.
Other tactics to consider, as discussed in William Ury’s book “Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation,” include:
- Step into their shoes to find out why they are so competitive, and then take action to defuse it.
- Point out why it makes sense for them to be cooperative.
- Educate them to the long-term negative consequences of their competitive negotiation style.
Of course, if you can’t convince them to cooperate and/or you determine that a cooperative style will be ineffective in that situation and there is some future relationship, use the following tactics:
- Reciprocate both their competitive and cooperative negotiation moves.
But also remember to respond cooperatively if they start to cooperate.
In addition, respond proportionately to them and don’t overreact. Otherwise, you might permanently poison your potential to achieve your long-term goal.
Overall, show your counterparts the positive and negative consequences of their behaviour. By consistently using this tit-for-tat style, researchers have found that parties will maximise their individual and total gain.
- Occasionally make a peace offering.
Studies also have found that you should occasionally extend a peace offering just in case you misinterpret your counterpart’s moves and the negotiation degenerated into a cycle of retaliatory moves, helping no one.
Of course, don’t walk too far out on the plank. Just make a little peace offering every third move or so and see if they reciprocate.
- Consider using a third party.
Finally, some nice negotiators are just too personally uncomfortable when faced with competitive tactics, including using tit-for-tat.
If you fall in this category, which is just fine, don’t divert too far from your comfort zone. In those circumstances, consider hiring an agent or request a friend skilled at negotiation to negotiate for you. Else wise, if you’re the nice guy or gal, you may just finish last.
Marty Latz, a negotiation columnist for The Business Journal of Phoenix