by Bob MacKenzie

Do you have a preferred negotiation style?

When faced with the need to resolve disputes, we tend to behave in a mixture of aggressive, assertive, cooperative or submissive ways. According to the specific circumstances, each type of behaviour can be appropriate.

For example, you might tend to be

  • Aggressive, if you are involved in a price war with business rivals
  • Assertive, if you are quietly sticking to your bottom line
  • Cooperative, if you and the other party have decided to pool your resources in a common venture
  • Submissive, if the specific issue is of little interest to you, but you want to maintain good relations with the other party
  • Assertive, if the other party is being either unnecessarily aggressive or passive to the extent that a good win-win outcome might be missed.

Gender differences in negotiations

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus

John Gray (book title)

There is some evidence to suggest that women and men approach negotiations differently, as do people from different cultures.

To some extent, your preferred negotiation style might depend upon whether you are a man or a woman. While recognising the danger of gender stereotyping, we can assume that, broadly, there are different male and female communication styles displayed in negotiations.

  • On the basis of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profiles of psychological types, it would seem that, within the thinking/feeling (T/F) pairing, women tend to focus more naturally on relationships (F), and men are likely to focus on desired outcomes, and to be more comfortable when dealing with clear data and calculations (T).
  • Men may tend to see the other party as ‘opponents’ to beat, while women may tend to see the other group as members of a ‘party’ with whom there is potential to collaborate for mutual benefit.
  • Do women prefer negotiation to competition? It seems possible that women are often better at successful negotiations because they are less concerned with the outcome and more concerned at building relationships and bridging the gap between efficient and humane business transactions (Sally Helgesen, The Female Advantage).
Key point

Often, the more diverse the gender composition of your negotiating team, the more likely you are to achieve a balanced and satisfactory outcome.

  • Do women tend to be less good at negotiating on their own behalf? Apparently, women tend to be less assertive than men when it comes to negotiating salary increases for themselves (Linda Babcock, Women don’t ask).

Negotiating in a different country

Although there are universal principles of negotiation, you also need to be sensitive to differences in negotiation practice amongst different cultures and in different countries.


I personally vividly remember how disadvantaged and bewildered I felt when I first went to live and work in multi-ethnic, multilingual Northern Nigeria many years ago. There, I was dependent upon frequent shopping expeditions to the local markets, where no fixed prices were displayed.

In the beginning, I had no understanding whatsoever of the local languages, and I had no idea of the going rate for produce. Nor did I understand the bartering, bargaining and negotiation processes that were expected in this part of the world. My Nigerian friends would laugh uproariously when I told them how much I paid.

In time, I learned to go to market with friendly ‘interpreters’. With their help, I began to obtain what I (and they) considered to be better and fairer deals.

Gradually, I was able to go to market on my own with greater confidence in my ability to enter into negotiations on a more equal footing.

Which behaviours achieve which outcomes?


Study the figure below, and work out when you would be most likely to follow each of the four main dispute resolution pathways (O » A, O » B, Bargaining and O » Y) during a particular set of negotiations.

Look at the questionnaire Your negotiating strategy; make some notes about negotiations that you have been involved with and about the pathway or strategy you followed in each case.

When you have thought about your own approach, have a look at Possible negotiating strategy responses for more ideas on how to develop your conflict resolution strategy for differing circumstances.

Figure: Four ways of resolving differences


O » A = the path to resolving differences my way – demanding and dominating (win-lose, or independent orientation)

O » B = the path to resolving differences your way – submitting and giving in (lose-win, or dependent orientation)

O » Y = the path to resolving differences our way – committing to mutual problem-solving (win-win, or interdependent orientation); this approach is driven by a desire both to achieve shared outcomes and to cement harmonious relationships.

(Model adapted from Project Management by Marion E Haynes (1996))