Choosing the right negotiating style – does one size fit all?

What is the best negotiating style?

How should I behave in a negotiation?

How should I react if the other party just makes a constant stream of demands and doesn’t want to concede anything in return?

What should I do if  I never get a straight answer, the other party is avoiding giving me answers to my questions?

Should I always be looking to compromise – split the difference?

Collaboration is a big buzzword, should I always put my cards on the table and suggest we work together to find the best deal?

These are BIG questions, and people often need help to answer them. This is where the Thomas-Kilmann TKI comes in. If you look at the grid you’ll see that it plots your willingness to cooperate against your desire to assert yourself. And this leads to the identification of five main negotiating behaviours: Competing, Collaborating, Accommodating, Avoiding and Compromising.

There is no single style that is appropriate for all situations. What is important though is to understand when to use a particulars style to best effect.


Negotiators who are assertive but uncooperative treat the negotiation as a competition. They try to use their power as a means of achieving “victory” and are less concerned with maintaining the relationship between the negotiators.

This is the style to use when you make a one-off purchase in a market – you want the best price you can get and are not concerned about after-sales service. It is not the style to use when trying to forge a long term relationship with a supplier who is key to your business’s success.


Rather than looking out for their own interests, accommodators are concerned with how they can accommodate the other party. They are cooperative, but unassertive, leading to generosity and self-sacrifice. While very effective in caring for relationships between parties, Altruists risk losing track of their own interests in an effort to please people.

Used with care, accommodation can be very useful in relationship-building, but it is easy for an accommodator to be taken advantage of, particularly by a competitor.


A collaborating style combines a strong sense of one’s own interests with a concern for the other party’s interests. Collaborators want to get the best possible deal for everyone involved. They are prepared to spend time and energy getting every- one’s interests on the table and exploring different solutions to see which combination of options works best.

This is a great approach when trying to work out a long-term deal that is in the best interests of all concerned. However, the approach can be long, complicated and exhausting. It does not work well when you are up against a deadline; it is more likely to make things worse as collaborators are seldom satisfied until they have examined a wide array of options.


Avoiders do not like conflict: they are neither assertive enough to pursue their own interests, nor cooperative enough to help others. The result can be that nothing gets done, negotiation is postponed, agreement is never reached and both parties get frustrated, even angry.

On the other hand, avoiding the issue now, but coming back to it later can be a good strategy when something changes between now and then to allow progress to be made: more budget or change of people involved for example. You also see it used when one party has some real power and does not need to engage in a negotiation: a buyers fail to pay the invoice after they have the goods and the “cheque is in the post”!


Compromising falls in the middle of both axes and forms a distinct style of its own. They see themselves as fair, reasonable, easy to deal with, and prepared to give and take in the course of negotiating. They take the classic “split the difference” approach in a negotiation, valuing efficiency and timesaving over detailed bargaining about every issue at stake. This mindset balances amiability with expedience and can allow business to carry on indefinitely but unremarkably.

It works well, for example, where the parties are haggling over the last five percent of a deal; why not split the difference, when so little is at stake? However, compromising can be lazy and deliver sub-optimal deals that with some more work could have delivered significantly greater value to both parties. In the extreme, a compromise can be dangerous, as the Judgement of Solomon points out.


Plenty has been written on the TKI and if you want to know more we suggest you start with the TKI website: You can even take a short test to determine your own preferred style!