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How Your Personality Type Affects Your Negotiation Style

A collaborative approach isn’t always the best option.

How Your Personality Type Affects Your Negotiation Style
[Photo: Photo_Concepts/iStock]

Negotiation is a scary thing. Whether you’re a college grad advocating for a salary bump for the first time, or a seasoned employee who needs to convince their bosses to allocate a bigger budget for training and development–it’s a situation filled with nerves, personality clashes, egos, and uncertainties.

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Yet it’s something that all of us have to do, and the only way to do it successfully is if we know how we can leverage our strengths as best as we can in the situation that we’re in. Fast Company reached out to negotiation experts to learn how our personality traits can affect our negotiation styles, and why a collaborative “win-win” approach isn’t always the most effective.


Related: What Personality Tests Really Reveals 


The Five Approaches Of Bargaining

Psychologists have lots of different ways of categorizing negotiation styles and personalities. One of these is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which lists five types of “bargaining” styles: competing, collaborative, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Mark Parkinson, a business psychologist and adviser to personality test company Traitify, told Fast Company how each style is embodied in practice:

1) Competing–I win, you lose

2) Collaborative–I win, you win

3) Compromising–We win some and lose some

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4) Accommodating–You win, I don’t mind losing

5) Avoiding–I lose, you lose

Much like the Big Five personality traits, these styles exists on a continuum. According to 2001 research published in Negotiation Journal by Wharton professor G. Richard Snell, having certain personality traits makes individuals more likely to adopt certain negotiation styles over others.

Those who enjoy solving other people’s problems and value relationship more than outcomes, for example, tend to default to having an “accommodating approach.” Individuals high in assertiveness and agreeableness who love to dig deeper into complex issues and enjoy probing beyond the surface tend to adopt a “collaborative” approach. Those that are interested in what appears to be a fair outcome, rather than what would benefit the parties most, tend to gravitate toward compromise. Those most interested in gains that are easily quantified “in terms of winning and losing” tend to be competitive. Finally, those who dislike confrontation and would much prefer to engage in diplomacy over negotiation are more predisposed to adopt the “avoiding” style of negotiation.


Related: Five Tips For Winning Business Negotiations With Bullies 


There Are Circumstances For Every Negotiation And Style

Most articles on negotiation tells us to be collaborative, and to strive for “win-win” situations. But this isn’t always possible for all negotiations, mainly because it relies on the parties to have collaborative characteristics (high on agreeableness and openness to experience). As Parkinson points out, it’s very difficult to force yourself to be somebody you’re not. And not all situations necessitate a win-win outcome.

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As Professor Snell wrote in his research paper, an accommodating approach can work extremely well when you’re a vendor negotiating with a customer, and that relationship with the customer is more important to you than the outcome of that particular negotiation. A compromising, avoiding, and  competing approach all can work when the stakes are small, and when you’re under a time crunch to complete the negotiation.

For example, your car breaks down and you need it fixed ASAP–you might be willing to compromise and make concessions for an increase in price in exchange for having it done a day early, even if there is very little added effort on the mechanic’s part. Litigation lawyers are employed as an advocate to obtain the best results for their clients and are, by nature, in an adversarial relationship with the person they’re negotiating with. It makes sense for them to adopt a win-lose approach, and not doing so can put their clients at a disadvantage.

Perception And Preparation Goes A Long Way

According to Seth Freeman, a conflict and negotiation expert and a professor at NYU Stern School of Business, ultimately– no matter what type of personality you have, there are three important things that are critical to any  successful negotiation: credibility, preparation, and listening.

“The perception is that negotiators are born and not made. People think that it’s about negotiating quickly on your feet. That’s not real negotiation. Really good negotiation is boring to watch, [because] lot of it is dependent on preparation.”


Related: How To Negotiate When You’re At A Disadvantage 


Parkinson agreed. When he negotiates, he himself follows what he calls the “one percent rule,” where he aims to know just one percent more than the person that he is negotiating with. “It works best when you’re in a technical area. The effect is, you appear knowledgeable, impartial, and credible. That’s how you get the negotiation going.”

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Parkinson also stressed the importance of perception and believability–at the end of the day, if the other parties perceive you to be a certain way, then that perception will influence your negotiation even if it’s not your true trait.

And at times, it’s in your interest to lean into that trait–particularly when it’s clear that the person you’re negotiating with respects that about you. Even those with competitive tendencies can adopt a trust-based approach, Parkinson states, “as long as someone valued the fact that they’re a competitive character.” Take entrepreneurs, Parkinson pointed out, “We’re quite happy that many of them are competitive people.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misrepresented Seth Freeman’s views on perception and believability. This article has been updated. 

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About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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