A Matter of Style

April 27, 2017‘Stan’ was a jerk. Totally self-absorbed with a massive ego, he was super aggressive and always breaking the rules. Reputation-wise, most people couldn’t stand him. Brilliant at software, though, he had developed a superb product.

The deal – based on an objective analysis of your financial and other interests – appeared to be excellent. But Stan would have a significant role going forward. So how you interacted and negotiated would be extremely significant.

Should you buy control of Stan’s company?

The biggest red flag, of course, is Stan’s personality style. What does that mean?

Here are five qualities to evaluate in assessing your counterpart’s negotiation style. Developed by Marquette Law School Prof. Andrea Kupfer Schneider in “Teaching a New Negotiation Skills Paradigm” (Washington Univ. Journal of Law and Policy, 2012), I have also added my own thoughts here.

Keep in mind the following, too:

Each quality exists on a spectrum. And we all exhibit elements of each, some more than others.

These reflect tendencies, not immutable characteristics. Each can be improved upon with self-awareness, training and practice.

These are styles - not strategies. They relate less to what you do and more with how you do it. Of course, these overlap.

Individuals modify how they implement these styles between negotiations and even within negotiations.

1. Assertiveness

Assertiveness relates to an individual’s aggressiveness in their negotiation interactions. How forcefully and competitively do they engage? Conversely, how much do they shy away from the conflict that inevitably exists sometimes?

Effective negotiators exhibit strong assertiveness traits – but know when, where and how to modify and modulate them. Too much assertiveness can result in an overly adversarial environment that can be counterproductive. Too little assertiveness can leave unrealized value on the table.

I once worked with a super assertive lawyer. An excellent litigator, his negotiation style and skills were underdeveloped - everything was a fight. Finding any common ground was extremely difficult.

2. Empathy

Schneider writes “being empathetic in a negotiation [requires] a complex mix of skills – a willingness to hear the other side, open-mindedness or curiosity, good questioning and excellent listening, among others.” Emotionally intelligent individuals score high on empathy.

Developing this skill means becoming a more active and deep listener and questioner. Highly empathetic negotiators also fundamentally believe their counterparts can help them get what they want.

Empathy is especially crucial in negotiations involving future relationships between the parties.

3. Flexibility

Flexibility sounds good. But too much flexibility can be a liability, reflecting a willingness to change too often without justification. Too little flexibility – stubbornness – can also be problematic.

Schneider notes that “[talented] negotiators work to find a variety of ways to get the job done both in their strategic choices as well as more flexible outcomes. Being flexible in negotiation allows a stylistic move from simple compromising to more sophisticated integrative solutions. It also helps to prevent stalemate.”

Being open to creative options you may not initially consider is another element of flexibility. Brainstorming, sometimes with your counterpart, often brings out this quality in negotiators.

4. Social Intuition

Schneider’s research finds that these social skills translate to negotiation effectiveness: personable, rational, perceptive, self-controlled, sociable, helpful, and smooth. Other research cited by Schneider suggests that how we interact and present to others and the importance of being nice are traits associated with successful individuals.

Appropriate tone and positive moods also translate to making negotiators more creative and effective. The opposite, too.

Don’t underestimate the power of sociability and rapport and relationship-building in negotiations.

5. Ethicality

Your reputation for trustworthiness and a willingness to follow ethical principles correlate to your negotiation effectiveness, according to Schneider and others.

Of course, trustworthiness in negotiations does not mean you simply lay all your cards on the table. Some misdirection is expected and warranted in many negotiations.

If my client is desperate to sell his business, I would not share this with a buyer.

Remember, though, your reputation derives not from your belief in your trustworthiness and ethics – but how your counterpart describes you after the negotiation.

So what about Stan? Here’s my style rating of him: high assertiveness, super low empathy, medium flexibility, low social intuition, problematic ethicality. Too many red flags. Walk away.

Latz’s Lesson: Research and evaluate your counterparts’ personality style. A good or bad style fit can make or break your deal.