Find Yourself Negotiating with Your Significant Other as well as at Work?

Guest contributed by Simon Letchford


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They say that opposites attract – but when it comes to negotiating, matching the other party’s style might be the key to a successful deal.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, negotiations go faster,  are more congenial and have better outcomes when both negotiators have matching personality traits.

Given that it could be said that most relationships work better when personalities do not clash, that shouldn’t be surprising. Sadly, in the real world you rarely get to choose the individuals you need to negotiate with. There are, however, things you can focus on to improve your chances of a successful deal. While we don’t guarantee you’ll find your next soulmate in love, you are more likely to get a better deal in less time in other parts of your life.

Buyers are from Venus, Sellers are from Mars

Have you ever had to negotiate a deal with someone and felt like they were from a different planet?

We teach the art of negotiation to thousands of professionals each year, and they often express frustration with the way the other side talks and behaves…

Salesperson’s inner voice – “Why does this buyer keep asking for more and more detail? Why can’t he just make a decision so we can get to the fun stuff?”

Procurement: “I don’t care about your golf game, where’s my cost breakdown? And stop asking me about my personal life!”

Extroverts (most salespeople) tend to be socially open, future-oriented, and relationship-based. They prefer to communicate top-down, and are easily bored with details. The people they negotiate with the most, procurement folks, tend to be the exact opposite – analytical, more socially closed, interested in the here-and-now, and detail-oriented – making communication and negotiation frustrating to both parties.

So, step one is to recognize that we’re not all programmed to communicate the same way. You might even say we’re not all from the same planet.

Visit their planet to do the deal

Good negotiators are aware of their own communication style, as well as their opposition’s style, and they adapt their own style to the other party’s rather than relying on the other side to adapt to theirs.

Identify what planet the other side is on. Look for the cues that will indicate how they are “programmed”.

People-driven negotiators tend to be comfortable talking about their personal lives. Their offices are more likely to have lots of photos of friends and family, certificates, and even photos of famous people they’ve met. Your proposals to these types should be packaged and presented to accentuate image, vision, uniqueness and personal recognition.

Data-driven analytical types can find these people-driven topics tedious, or even inappropriate. Their offices will tend to have one or two family photos. Your negotiation proposals to these types should highlight data, profit and loss, information and ways to address business risks – keeping the personal discussions to a polite minimum.

Dominant personality styles tend to make statements rather than ask questions. They are comfortable challenging you, and tend to be more decisive. Proposals to these negotiators should be concise, and focused on the bottom line and results.

Passive styles tend to be more thoughtful and hesitating. They will ask more questions, express their opinions less often, and focus on risk. Proposals should be based on addressing risks, be factual and be supported by data, not opinions. You’ll need more negotiating patience here, as pushing for a quick decision can come across as intimidating.

Dress for the role you want

It’s not easy to adapt your style to another person’s; it takes skill and practice. If you personally have trouble connecting with the other side’s lead negotiator, (and let’s face it, sometimes two people just do not get on), think about introducing a second person on your team who has a similar style to them. As long as your team-member is aligned to your goals and strategy, they can sometimes help translate between you and your intermediary and help move the process forward.

In other words, if you’re having trouble translating from Venetian to Martian, consider bringing a Martian with you to the table.

Final two caveats

Firstly, I’m not suggesting you try to change who you are or your values or objectives. No personality type is better than the other – we just process information differently, so think carefully about how you communicate your issues to the other side.

Secondly, don’t confuse the substance of the deal (the pricing, terms, contract length and risk) with the tone and communication style deployed during the negotiation. Tone and style are only one factor in the art of negotiation – the skills of knowing your goals and limits, listening, asking good questions, making credible proposals and knowing how to respond to a “no” are also critical, and a topic for another day.

Simon Letchford is Managing Director of Scotwork’s North American business. Scotwork is a global negotiation consultancy that advises clients on negotiation strategy, and trains over 12,000 managers and executives each year in negotiation skills.

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