Negotiation may be defined as a process between two or more parties, each with their own aims, needs and views, seeking to discover a common ground and reach an agreement to settle a matter of mutual concern or conflict.

While Business Dictionary’s above definition may appear straight-forward, negotiation processes are often not. Part of this rests on the reality that all negotiations involve two levels of thinking: a rational or logical approach, and a behavioural or emotional response.

While the rational approach (based on facts, figures, research and past interactions) seems objective enough, the reality is that negotiations occur between people whose perspectives, assumptions, fears and communication styles differ, resulting in an emotional response to both the engagement and the outcome.

In addition to this, confidence and assertiveness plays a large role in influencing the process and outcome. In a team meeting, for example, an assertive, or a less integrated, aggressive team member may confidently or forcefully put their views and desired outcomes across, while a less confident or timid team member may either remain silent or accommodate others at the expense of their views or what they know to be right.

Understanding the Thomas Kilmann communication styles assists us to recognise how people’s differing engagement styles influence negotiations:

  • Accommodators enjoy solving the other party’s problems and preserving personal relationships. They are sensitive to the emotional states, body language and verbal signals of others. They can, however, be taken advantage of in situations when the other party places little emphasis on the relationship.
  • Avoiders do not like to negotiate and don’t do it unless necessary. When negotiating, they tend to defer and dodge the confrontational aspects of negotiating; however, they may be perceived as tactful and diplomatic.
  • Collaborators enjoy negotiations that involve solving tough problems in creative ways. They are good at using negotiations to understand the concerns and interests of the other parties yet can create problems by transforming simple situations into more complex ones.
  • Competitors enjoy negotiating because they view the situation as an opportunity to win something. Competitive negotiators have strong instincts for all aspects of negotiating and are often strategic because their style can dominate the bargaining process. Competitive negotiators often neglect the importance of relationships.
  • Compromisers are eager to close the deal by doing what is fair and equal for all parties involved in the negotiation. Compromisers can be useful when there is limited time to complete the deal; however, compromisers often unnecessarily rush the negotiation process and make concessions too quickly.

It is therefore essential that we are mindful not only of facts, figures or desired outcomes when entering negotiation processes at the office, but also of sufficiently preparing ourselves ahead of time – we must be careful not to retreat into our default style at the expense of achieving the department’s or organisation’s goals. Therefore, exploring the answers to the following before entering into negotiation process are key in working towards a positive outcome:

  • Why is there a need and desired outcome for this negotiation?
  • What are the facts and views that need to be considered?
  • How will I engage in a way that supports the goal?


About the author: Sue Bakker is the Academic Head at TowerStone Leadership Centre.