Once again, you are probably NOT going to like my answer – it depends! I recently read an article in HBR “Research: Being Nice in a Negotiation Can Backfire” which provides some research that demonstrates that being nice in a negotiation will yield sub-optimal results. The article defines “nice” as being warm and friendly and “not-nice” as being tough and firm and focuses solely on communication style. In addition, the research was based on transactional, price driven, one-time events. It’s an interesting article even though I don’t necessarily agree with their definitions or their sample.
Let me start with the definition of “nice”. I look at nice as being the opposite of nasty. You don’t necessarily have to be warm and friendly OR a pushover to be nice. Someone can be nice (professional, not abrasive) and firm (direct and to the point) at the same time. I do not look at those as being mutually exclusive. In addition, many of the negotiations that we, as professionals, are involved in are NOT transactional, price driven one-time events. I would argue that you should always start by being “nice” but also firm regardless of the situation. You also need to decide the type of relationship you have or want to have with the other party. If growing or preserving the relationship is important than that should factor into your communication style. So, which negotiation / communication style works best? It depends on several factors AND it may be necessary to use different styles during the same negotiation.
Here are the various negotiation styles:
Avoiding: Ignoring the issues and the other party. Neither you or I satisfy our concerns.
- Most unassertive and most uncooperative
- You don’t take a position
Accommodating: Focuses on the preservation or creation of the relationship, often at the expense of your own interest.
- Low assertiveness and highly cooperative
- Opposite of Competing
Competing: Focuses only on the negotiator’s interests, often at the expense of the relationship.
- Highly assertive and highly uncooperative
- Opposite of Accommodating
- Little interest in concerns of others
Collaborating: A win-win style based on mutual problem solving and can result in a long-term, mutually satisfying relationship
- Both highly assertive and highly cooperative
- The most ideal position
- Takes the most patience and commitment
- Looking to build consensus
Compromising: Each party gives up some of their concerns to satisfy each other.
- Moderately assertive and cooperative
- Thought of as “splitting the difference”
- Workable solution with a deadline
Some of these styles sound “nicer” than others but depending on the circumstances, all can be effective. As individuals, we all have a style that we naturally gravitate toward. We need to be aware of our own personal style and how that can impact a negotiation if we are not capable to using the other styles when needed. We actually have a self-assessment we use when we conduct Negotiation training as part of our Strategic Sourcing / Category Management University that helps our participants identify their predominate style. We also discuss when to use each style AND the implications of using one specific style throughout the entire negotiation. We often negotiate in teams which provides us with the opportunity to have team members with different styles and gives us the flexibility we need. Communication / negotiation style is important and can have an impact on the outcome, but it is part of the “art” of negotiation and more complicated than simply “nice” or not.
Is being nice the best way to negotiate? I would argue that nice and firm can work in tandem and should be your initial approach.
Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . .