How To Find Your Negotiation Style

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Every skilled negotiator goes about their craft with a particular style. This is not to infer that they are putting on a persona or facade, but rather that they have learned to integrate their learned negotiation skills and their unique personality and way of looking at the world.

You should do the same. Though you can learn from other, more seasoned negotiators, never imitate them line by line or tactic by tactic. Your personality and bent needs to shine through. When it does, you’ll find that the negotiations you are involved in will be more natural, trust will be built more easily with those on the other side of the negotiation, and ultimately, you’ll be more effective—which is what matters most.

An unorthodox experience with a mentor—and a lesson to learn

In a recent episode of Negotiations Ninja, Mohammed Faridy shared a story from the first days of his career as a negotiator. It’s an example of how each of us should learn from mentors without feeling that we have to be exactly like them.

Mohammed was working for a major player in the banking industry, Citibank. After a number of changes where he was shuffled from one department to another, Mohammed landed in procurement, specializing in IT. It was there that he met his first mentor, Ted.

Ted was quiet, soft spoken. He didn’t come across as the take-charge guy you might expect as a top negotiator. But underneath his quiet demeanor was a skilled, wise, successful negotiation professional, and he had the track record to prove it.

Mohammed was alongside Ted during one negotiation with an existing supplier. The supplier had not been doing a very good job for Citibank. Everyone gathered around the table, including the sales representative from the servicing company and the company’s CEO. Ted sat down at the table after the introductions and said nothing, he just looked across the table at the men on the other side. After an awkward silence, the sales rep began first, discussing the services his company was providing to Citibank. He characterized his team’s work in glowing terms.

Ted patiently heard him out. When the sales rep was finished, Ted bluntly but calmly stated that their service had actually been very poor. It wasn’t long before the the sales rep interrupted Ted, attempting to explain why his description of their poor performance was not entirely fair. To the surprise of everyone—including Mohammed—Ted slammed his hand on the conference table and shouted at the man. He pointed out that he had waited patiently to hear everything the sales rep had to say, but the moment he began describing his concerns the sales rep interrupted. The CEO apologized and said they would gladly hear everything Ted had to say.

Ted then calmly laid out a list of requirements the servicing company was expected to meet, including a rate decrease, and walked out of the room, leaving Mohammed to close the meeting. There was no further negotiation. In the end, the supplier agreed to everything Ted asked for.

When Mohammed met Ted in his office after the negotiation, Ted sat at his desk with a grin on his face. “What did you think about that?” he inquired. Mohammed learned that Ted had taken the same approach only a handful of times in his career as a negotiator, but said that it was necessary to get the men on the other side of the table to refocus on what they were contracted to provide—service.

What’s your reaction to Ted’s approach?

Many negotiators feel immediately uncomfortable with the approach Ted took. If that’s you, all it means is that his tactics don’t fit your personality. Mohammed himself said that he normally prefers a collaborative approach rather than one that is confrontational. That’s OK. In fact, it’s good. While Ted’s example can demonstrate the extremes you may sometimes have to go to in order to move a negotiation forward effectively, it’s not a “cut and paste” you should follow if it’s outside the lane you typically move in. Find your own voice, your own negotiation style, and employ it effectively. 

Find your negotiation style by knowing yourself well

It’s clear that through the years Ted was actively negotiating, his quiet demeanor served him well. The way he opened the meeting is a great example. It gave him the opportunity to hear how the service provider would approach the situation, whether they were aware of the issues, and what approach might be needed. Ted had learned to turn his natural tendency into a strength at the negotiating table. It was part of his negotiation style.

If you’re going to develop your own negotiating style, you have to know yourself. You need to understand what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not, then find ways to integrate those preferences—which are actually among your strengths—into your negotiation style.

There are many great training resources available to help you. Negotiations Ninja provides training for groups or individuals as do many other negotiation training organizations. But Mohammed’s best advice is this: Find a mentor. Look carefully at the individuals in your organization who have been negotiating successfully for years and investigate the possibility of forming a mentoring relationship with them.

If you’d like to hear more about how Ted and another mentor, Jane impacted Mohammed’s career path, listen to his episode on Negotiations Ninja.