William Shatner in his Priceline commercials portrays a caricature of the aggressive, adversarial, competitive and slightly sleazy negotiator who wheels and deals to get you the best prices. And he gets them – in the commercials.
But do these characteristics in real life reflect the effective traits of the best negotiators? No.
According to Marquette University law Professor Andrea Kupfer Schneider’s 2002 study of lawyers’ negotiating styles, effective negotiators are those who are “both assertive (experienced, realistic, fair, astute, careful, wise) and empathetic (perceptive, communicative, accommodating, agreeable, adaptable).”
She also found the most effective ones are “good (ethical and trustworthy) and offer enjoyable company (personable, sociable, poised).” Based on this research, what negotiation-related traits should you strive to exhibit?
• Be assertive but not personally adversarial.
Assertiveness – being bold, confident, direct and self-assured – is a quality trait in a negotiator because it communicates to your counterparts a strongly held positive belief in your positions.
And if you don’t believe it, and come across as such, your counterparts certainly won’t. Be careful you don’t appear arrogant or personally adversarial. It’s a fine line but an important one.
Recognize also that you might need to develop this trait for some negotiations or act a little if you are not naturally assertive.
That’s OK, as long as you don’t stretch too far from your comfort zone.
• Exhibit empathy but don’t be a rollover.
Nobody would describe Shatner’s Priceline character as “empathetic.” And yet, the ability to step into your counterpart’s shoes and fully appreciate their feelings, emotions, needs, motives and interests is a critical trait in most successful negotiators.
Keep in mind, of course, this doesn’t mean you always agree with them – just that you understand them and act accordingly.
Many years ago I worked on a political campaign in which a new campaign manager was hired midway through the election. He came into a situation where there was significant conflict between several strong personalities on the team.
Importantly, he was able to negotiate between them – and get everyone effectively working on the same page – largely because he connected and empathized with everyone on a different level.
• Ethics and trustworthiness make a bottom-line difference.
Ethics is sometimes taught in business and law schools as a moral element that is just the “right thing to do.” It’s also often noted that certain ethics rules or laws may apply to your conduct and you may be legally liable if you ignore them.
Of equal importance to these elements, negotiating ethically has also been found to be among the most effective traits of successful negotiators. What does this mean?
When you give your word or make a commitment – follow through on it. Don’t use negotiation “games” like feigned irrationality, physically flinching when your counterpart makes a first move or other negotiation “games” some use.
Bottom line – your assertiveness, empathy and ethics all will make bottom line differences in your results
Published December 3, 2009 The Arizona Republic