Negotiators: Do You Fit the Profile?

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"Along the grid of negotiating styles, some people take a compromising attitude - a firm but fair give-and-take. Others take the stance: Do it or you're fired. Then there are those who try to ignore problems altogether…Of course, the ideal is a win-win style." [1]

In her book, Winning by Negotiation, therapist and business consultant Tessa Albert Warschaw outlines the following basic negotiating styles:

U.S. Pacific Air Forces, Flickr

Jungle Fighters (win-lose)

These people enjoy the challenge of conflict; they are aggressive and apt to resort to cutthroat tactics when negotiations do not go their way. To jungle fighters, a negotiation represents an intoxicating cross between strategy game and all-out war and losing is not an option. They are obsessed with winning at any cost, and the fight is half the fun. They may even create conflict if things are proceeding too smoothly. The jungle fighter will use charm, bullying and even deceit to achieve victory.

Dictators (win- lose)

Commonly organized and competent, dictators can be obsessed with control and often demand unswerving loyalty from their teams. A conversation with a dictator is more like an interrogation than a discussion. Both dictators and jungle fighters are aggressive negotiators; but, while jungle fighters often exhibit an extravagant temper, dictators typically keep their cool. When a dictator explodes, it’s done with deliberation and usually for effect.

Big Daddies or Big Mamas (win-lose)

These are probably the most manipulative of all negotiators. They use words to soothe, nurture and present their case. Often, they convince others that it’s in their own best interest to go along. As long as they maintain control, they will continue to offer their brand of TLC. In a sense, they are the closet dictators of the negotiating world. They are generous, but demand complete loyalty and obedience in return.

Silhouettes (win-lose)

Silhouettes typically do whatever they can to avoid conflict and may simply refuse to participate in a negotiation if it promises to be confrontational. They believe in non-interference and seldom ask for help. Their most effective weapon in negotiation is silence, followed closely by single-minded determination and an absolute conviction that they are right. Silhouettes frequently win through sheer doggedness and a refusal to engage.

Soothers (lose-win)

Soothers rarely take a position. They often appear to have no investment in winning a negotiation, generally acceding to demands without argument. They reject conflict and will allow others to choose for them. Soothers usually see a challenge as a threat and will avoid risk. Their greatest desire is to be liked and accepted. They strive to sooth ruffled feelings and buffer anger by helping people resolve differences, with little or no reference to their own needs in the situation. 

Win-Win Negotiators

Win-win negotiators search for solutions that allow both parties in a negotiation to walk away with something of value. This commitment to mutuality stems from a pragmatic realization that winning and long-term survival can only be achieved with the cooperation of others. Win-win negotiators are interested in achieving their own goals, but not by creating a string of embittered losers. They try to understand what's important to the other side so they can better understand how differences can be bridged and mutually beneficial solutions crafted.

The Best Negotiation Style?

As the quote at the beginning of this article states, this last category of negotiator (win-win) has become the ideal in recent years. When two win-win negotiators come to the table, both parties work in good faith toward a common goal that does not require either party to make drastic trade-offs. Probably the best known coverage of this type of negotiation is found in Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Some of the key elements of the principled (win-win) negotiation they advocate include:

  • Separating the people from the problem;
  • Focusing on interests, not positions;
  • Generating options for mutual gain; and
  • Using mutually agreed and objective criteria for evaluating possible solutions.

Fisher and Ury categorize many of the approaches described in Warschaw’s negotiator profiles above as “dirty tricks’ and suggest that such tricks be met with a discussion about the rules of engagement. When faced with a negotiator who simply refuses to “play fair,” Fisher and Ury encourage the principled negotiator to take her BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and walk away, rather being pulled into the muddy trenches.

The overarching theme of Getting to Yes is the notion that all negotiations can be successfully concluded through problem solving and a commitment to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution. In an ideal and uncomplicated world, this may be true; but win-win is not always possible and some negotiations won’t result in both parties coming out ahead. As James J. White writes in his review of Getting to Yes[2]:

“Eventually…one comes to bargaining in which added benefits to one impose corresponding significant costs on the other…Ultimately parties in a labor negotiation [for example] will come to a raw economic exchange in which additional wage dollars for the employees will be dollars subtracted from the corporate profits, dollars that cannot be paid in dividends to the shareholders.”

In situations like this, where one party’s gain must result in a loss of some kind to the other party in the negotiation, it may well be beneficial to have a jungle fighter, dictator or big mama on your negotiating team. At the very least, when a purely win-win solution is not possible, it pays to master some distributive negotiating tactics


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[1] Stephen Grossman, president of Double Dominance Inc., quoted in Knowing How You Deal With Conflict Is The Key To Success In Negotiation By Alice Urbanski Laskey.

[2] White, James J. "The Pros and Cons of Getting to YES." Review of Getting to YES, by R. Fisher and W. Ury. J. Legal Educ. 34 (1984): 115-24.

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