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People's Law Guide


What Is Your Negotiating Style?

Bruce A. Blitman, Esquire/Certified Medi


Negotiating is something we do, consciously or unconsciously, every day. In our personal lives, we negotiate with our friends and spouses about where we will go for dinner, or which movie we will see. At home, we negotiate with family members about how we will spend our summer vacation. With our younger children, we invariably negotiate about which television programs they can watch and when they will go to bed. As our children get older, we will negotiate about their curfews and driving privileges. On our often perilous drives to the office, we frequently negotiate with other motorists about entering and exiting the highway, and about who will proceed first at an intersection. At work, an employee may ask you for a raise or you may ask your supervisor fro a raise. Clearly, negotiating affects every aspect of our lives. How do you negotiate? Do you enjoy the "give and take" of the negotiating process? Do you welcome the chance to negotiate about everything? Is buying a new car an exhilarating experience, or do you cringe at the prospect of going to the automobile dealership? As the car salesperson approaches, do you hear the ominous sounds of the theme music from the movie "Jaws"? Is negotiating something you dread?

Dr. Kenneth W. Thomas and Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann have devised a fascinating assessment instrument for evaluating an individual's behavior in conflict situations. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument defines "Conflict Situations" as those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In these situations, they describe a person's behavior along two basic dimensions: (1) ASSERTIVENESS: The extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy HIS/HER own concerns; and (2) COOPERATIVENESS: The extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the OTHER PERSON'S concerns. According to Thomas and Kilmann, these two basic dimensions of behavior can be used to define five specific modes of dealing with conflict, which they call "conflict-handling modes." Thomas and Kilmann suggest that we are capable of using all five conflict-handling modes. Although none of us can be characterized as having a single, rigid style of dealing with conflict, we tend to use some modes better than others and tend to rely upon these modes more heavily than others-whether because of temperament or practice.

Thomas and Kilmann describe five distinctive personalities for handling conflict situations/negotiations. Which one best describes you?

1. COMPETING: This personality is assertive and uncooperative. Competers pursue their own concerns at the other person's expense. They use whatever powers seem appropriate to win their position-including their ability to argue or their rank. Scarlett O'Hara, the vain and rutless heroine of "Gone With The Wind", epitomizes the competitve personality. For competers, "the ends justify the means."

2. ACCOMMODATING: This individual is unassertive and cooperative-the opposite of the competer. Accommodators often neglect their own concerns in order to satisfy the concerns of others. Accommodators may be self-sacrificing "martyrs". Accommodating may take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person's order even when they would prefer not to, or yielding to another's point of view. The stereotypical, doting mother typifies the accommodating personality. Accommodators prefer to "kill their enemies with kindness". Melanie Wilkes, the kind, devoted, understanding and saintly wife of Ashley Wilkes in "Gone With The Wind" represents the accommodating personality.

3. AVOIDING: Avoiders are unassertive and uncooperative. They do not immediately pursue their own concerns or those of others. The conflict is never addressed by avoiders. Their avoiding may take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing the issue until a later or better time, or, ostrich-like, completely withdrawing from the threatening situation. Avoiders tend to "leave well enough alone."

4. COLLABORATING: This personality is both assertive and cooperative-the opposite of the avoider. Collaborators attempt to work with the other person to find some solution which fully satisfies the concerns of both persons. They dig into an issue to identify the underlying concerns of the two conflicting individuals and try to find an alternative which meets both sets of concerns. Collaborating between the parties might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other's insights, concluding to resolve some condition which would otherwise have them competing for resources, or confronting and trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem. Collaborators are "win-win" negotiators who believe that "two heads are better than one."

5. COMPROMISING: On the negotiating continuum, this personality lies somewhere between assertiveness and cooperativeness. The goal of the compromiser is to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution which partially satisfies both parties. The compromiser is in the middle ground between the competer and the avoider. The compromiser gives up more than the competer, but less than the accommodator. The compromiser addresses an issue more directly than the avoider, but does not explore it in as much depth or detail as the collaborator. Compromising might mean exchanging concessions or seeking a quick, middle-ground position. The compromiser lives by the phrase "Let's split the difference."

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is published by Xicom. This instrument, as well as many other useful assessments for professional and personal development, can be purchased by writing to Xicom at: Woods Road, Tuxedo, New York, 10987. Telephone, (914) 351-4735.

Best wishes for good health, good luck and good negotiating.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR... Bruce A. Blitman is an attorney and certified County, Family, Circuit Civil and Federal Mediator in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Since 1989, Mr. Blitman has mediated more than two thousand disputes. He frequently writes and lectures about mediation, negotiation, and alternative dispute resolution. He is the Immediate Past-President of The Florida Academy Of Professional Mediators, Inc., which is the state's largest professional association for dispute resolvers. Mr. Blitman is also a co-founder and Director of Mediation Services for Healthcare Mediation And Communication Institute, Inc. His telephone number is (954) 437-3446. His e-mail address is negst000

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