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Most common negotiation styles

People tend to negotiate according to one of three styles: competitive; accommodating; or avoidant (see Mnookin, Peppett, and Tulumello, Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes, Harvard, University Press, 2000).

None of us is immune from the tendency.

Lawyer negotiators need to understand their own characteristic style of negotiation, as well as those of their clients, the opposing lawyers, and the opposing parties.

The Competitor

  • Competitors are assertive, but lack empathy.
  • They like winning and being in control.
  • They are eager, enthusiastic, impatient, and partisan.
  • They adopt a tough negotiating position and stick to it.
  • They counter-attack if bullied or intimidated.

The Accommodator

  • Accommodators are good empathisers, but poor asserters.
  • They value relationships and are compassionate and understanding.
  • They are good listeners and want to be liked.
  • They want differences resolved quickly.

The Avoider

  • Avoiders display little empathy or assertiveness.
  • They are uncomfortable with any conflict, especially emotional conflict.
  • Their modus operandi is to disengage, appearing detached, unenthusiastic and uninterested.
  • They deflect efforts to focus on solutions.

Interplay between the styles

Competitor – Competitor

This combination leads to the most lively negotiations.

Competitors enjoy the battle, but may well reach a stalemate.

The challenge for competitors is to frame the compromises they are seeking in terms digestible by the other side.

Competitor – Accommodator

The challenge for the accommodator faced with the competitor is to develop their assertiveness.

The challenge for the competitor is not to prejudice settlement by appearing to exploit the goodwill of the accommodator and thereby seeming to act in bad faith.

Competitor – Avoider

The avoider frustrates the competitor’s need to control.

The competitor may be too aggressive and cause the avoider to be even more avoidant.

The challenge for the competitor is to tone down.

The challenge for the avoider is to be less defensive ad more engaged and assertive.

Accommodator – Accommodator

Accommodators may be exquisitely attuned to one another’s relationship needs, but fail to assert their own interests adequately.

They may avoid issues and overlook opportunities.

The challenge for them is to accept conflict and not bring negotiations to a close too early by wanting to keep the peace.

Accommodator – Avoider

When these two meet, the risk is that the negotiations will go nowhere. The avoider stays disengaged because the accommodator allows that.  The challenge for the accommodator is not to accept the avoidance but entice the avoider into engagement.

The challenge for the avoider is to realise that even with an accommodating opponent, they will need to engage more.

Avoider – Avoider

Having two avoidant negotiators together may be a somewhat unfortunate combination.

A dispute may not even be negotiated because both parties at the outset avoid the possibility of conflict.

The obvious challenge for the avoiders is to realise that by shutting their eyes to the possibility of conflict, the dispute will not go away.





– Good at gaining the biggest slice of the pie


– Risk escalation or stalemate.

– May damage relationships.

– Lose self-control.

– Self-blame for poor outcome or failure.



– Maintain good relationships.

– Seen as trustworthy.

– Adept at creating less stressful negotiation atmosphere.


– Can be exploited by a competitive negotiator, especially where a relationship may be threatened

– Too much emphasis on relationships and too little on problem solving.

– Prone to frustration



– Help avoid disputes that should be avoided.

– Force other side to do the work.

– Persuasive when they do speak up.

– Reserve makes it hard for the opposition to pick their intentions.


– Miss opportunities to solve problems and resolve disputes.

– Viewed by others as apathetic, indifferent, or passive-aggressive.

– Can be misunderstood.

– Bottle up their emotions.

Excerpt from The three most common negotiation styles by Nigel Dunlop, published in NZ Lawyer 30 April 2010. Reprinted with permission of the author and NZ Lawyer.