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Negotiation Style

November 29, 2012

Earlier this week, I was reminded of a survey that IACCM undertook a few years ago exploring member attitudes to negotiation style. One of the key discoveries was that almost half were not even aware of the ‘positional’ and ‘principled’ terms that were used in the seminal work on negotiation, ‘Getting to Yes’.

The reason I re-discovered the study was because of a question from three MBA students at the Norwegian School of Entrepreneurship, who are studying what frameworks business managers and negotiators use when planning or conducting negotiations.

On reflection, I had to admit that I don’t spend much time thinking about these questions of style, because I believe most b2b negotiations tend to be a hybrid. Also, a discussion of preferred style seems to imply far more planning by the average negotiator than is really the case. In my experience, they are more often driven by the broader policies and practices of the organization than by any personal propensity for negotiating style. So, for example, if the company operates with strong ‘powers reserved’ by specific functions, the style is largely one of stone-walling.

Many large businesses appear driven more by concepts such as avoidance, assertion or compromise. Value trading tends to be eliminated because of management and measurement systems.
Also, we have to bear in mind the fundamental shifts that there have been in business operations in the last 15 years, none of which are adequately reflected in current literature. Specifically, the globalization of trading relationships and the intervention of networked technologies have fundamentally changed the framework for negotiation. Things like e-auctions have altered the playing field for negotiability; communication technologies and distance have made most negotiations virtual; the growth of specialisms has rendered negotiation far more defensive and iterative (rather than holistic); and procurement practices have eroded trust and loyalty between trading partners. In addition, ERP systems have created a set of enterprise standards that create complexity for one or both sides – the challenge of ‘what happens when ERP meets ERP’.

Overall, the nature and scale of complexity that faces negotiators today means that the rationality implied by concepts such as ‘positional and principled’ just doesn’t exist. Even if I want to be collaborative and open, the barriers to achieving it are often simply too great. In either preparing for, or observing during, a business-to-business negotiation, I have to understand not only the personal character of the various negotiators, but also the measurements that motivate them and the ‘organizational culture’ that will eventually affect not only this negotiation, but also the subsequent performance of the contract. It is a complicated mix – and rather defies the theories of specific style.

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