October 16, 2012

Most negotiation books divide negotiators into two different styles. The Cooperative/Problem-Solving (“win-win”) approach where the persons move psychologically toward the other side, try to maximize the joint returns, begin with reasonable opening offers and seek fair results, are open and trusting, and use objective criteria to guide their discussions. The Competitive/Adversarial (“win-lose”) approach where the individuals move psychologically against the other side, try to maximize their own returns,  begin will less reasonable opening offers, seek one-sided returns benefiting their own side, and are less open, less trusting, and manipulative. In separate studies of practicing attorneys, Gerald Williams and Andrea Schneider found that about two-thirds of negotiators are considered to be Cooperative/Problem-Solvers, and about one-third to be Competitive/Adversarials. Far more Cooperative/Problem-Solvers are considered to be effective negotiators than their Competitive/Adversarial cohorts.

The number one goal for successful Competitive/Adversarial negotiators is the maximization of their own returns. On the other hand, the number two goal for successful Cooperative/Problem-Solvers is the maximization of their own returns, which suggests that they may be wolves in sheepskin. A recent study indicated that the most successful negotiators are thought to be completely open and cooperative by their opponents, even though they admit that they are not entirely open and employ some manipulative tactics. These hybrid persons can be described as Competitive/Problem-Solvers (“WIN-win”) who wish to maximize the joint returns achieved by the negotiating parties, but who hope to claim more of the created joint surplus than they give up.

Which style do you employ, and what should you do when you encounter opponents who use a different approach?