The Negotiator Magazine

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“Negotiation Style and Approach: Are Stereotypes a Myth?”

By Tim Cummins

IACCM’s recent survey on Negotiation Styles and Attitudes showed a higher than expected level of consistency when we analyzed the results by geographic region, by job role and by gender. It suggests that stereo-typical views of norms and behavior are (at least among contract negotiators) potentially outdated and misleading.

However, the study confirms that there are significant differences in negotiator preferences and styles which may therefore have extensive influence on how a negotiation proceeds and how successful it will prove. The fact that these preferences are not readily predictable based on obvious factors such as geography, gender or role actually makes our task more complex. It means that a good negotiator must be highly observant and find ways to test the other side’s preferences and approaches on a whole range of stylistic issues – in particular, those that we outline below.

This same questionnaire is a classic that has been used by negotiation researchers and has led to significant conclusions on the impacts of culture on style and approach. Although the IACCM community supports some variations, they are not entirely consistent with this earlier research and certainly not as pronounced. Overall, the results show higher levels of similarity across the different segments in many of the factors that we tested.

But are these similarities real, or imagined? Have we become more conscious of our own stereo-types, resulting in either conscious behavioral change or adjustment in the way we answer? Taking a few examples from the results, is it true that the British more informal in style than the Americans? Are Italians less emotional than Australians? Are lawyers more interested in ‘win-win’ negotiations than any other job group?

Perhaps increased training and awareness is resulting in a more consistent approach across all groups. Our survey was focused on contract and negotiation professionals, whereas the previous studies drew data from a wider population of business people.

The survey is of course based on self-perception – and in some respects, that not only masks differences, but also tells us about the depth of complexity when we are operating across boundaries. It raises three immediate questions:

The survey therefore highlights some areas that will prove fruitful for further analysis and may result in useful tips on negotiating across borders – job borders, geographical borders, gender borders and stylistic / attitudinal borders. Our first step in this next phase is to test whether self-perception accords with the experience of others. We are updating our 2004 survey international negotiation experiences.

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October 2006