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What’s your negotiating style?

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We all have a personal approach to negotiation. Here’s how to make the most of yours.

Individual differences in our preferences for certain kinds of outcomes when we interact with other people strongly affect how we approach negotiation, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor Laurie Weingart. Weingart and other psychologists have pinpointed four basic negotiating personalities:

1. Individualists concentrate on maximizing their own outcomes and show little concern for others’ outcomes. Studies show about half of U.S. negotiators fall into this category. Individualists tend to claim value rather than create it, argue their positions forcefully and, at times, make threats.

2. Cooperators maximize their own and their counterparts’ results. Composing about 25% to 35% of the U.S. population studied, cooperators are motivated to ensure that each party in a negotiation receives his or her fair share. Cooperators are more open to value-creating strategies, such as exchanging information and making multi-issue offers, than individualists.

3. Competitives (about 5% to 10% of U.S. study participants) are motivated to maximize the difference between their own and others’ outcomes. Because of their strong desire to “win big,” they tend to engage in behavior that’s self-serving and that blocks collaborative solutions.

4. Altruists, a rare breed, strive to maximize their counterparts’ outcomes rather than their own. Virtually all negotiators behave altruistically under certain conditions, as when dealing with loved ones or those less fortunate.

Which style is best? Negotiators with a primarily cooperative style are more successful than hard bargainers. Negotiators who lean toward cooperation also tend to be more satisfied with the results, according to Weingart.

At the same time, claiming value and lobbying tenaciously for your position can be equally important negotiation strategies.

The best approach: Focus on building a cooperative relationship and creating value, then work to claim as much as you can for yourself.

— Adapted from Negotiation, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, www.pon.harvard.edu.

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