For Law Students

Join Now

Style points: A few words on negotiation


It has been said by some that life is a negotiation. Admittedly, sometimes it indeed can be, whether it is with a spouse, a parent, or a friend. Likewise, as a lawyer, it may often seem like your daily work life is, indeed, a constant negotiation. You may encounter numerous types of negotiation even during the course of a single day, such as contract negotiations and settlement negotiations associated with litigation matters.

Choosing what negotiation style to employ can be a determinative factor in a negotiation. Some choose a more adversarial style, while others may choose a more collaborative/accommodating style. The choice of negotiation style however can often dictate how successful the negotiation is. For example, if both sides employ a similar style of negotiation, particularly a more adversarial style, then deadlock may occur resulting in a damaged or frayed relationship between the parties.

The most common style of negotiation is known as principled/integrative negotiation. Essentially, this type of negotiation involves parties working together to achieve an agreement that leaves both sides happy. Parties think in terms of interests and problems, rather than thinking in terms of a zero-sum game.

Another style is called the competing style, and it is, as the name would seem to suggest, the most adversarial style. Negotiators who gravitate to this style see negotiations as competitions that have winners and losers. The other negotiation styles see competing negotiators as aggressive and strategic. The competing style works best when you need a fast negotiation or when there aren’t many variables at play, such as simply negotiating over the price of a product.

However, the competing style does not work well when used against another using the competing style; often, deadlock occurs, and relationships become frayed or even hostile.

Some other common negotiation styles include:

  • Accommodative – the opposite of the competing style; in this style, you offer the other side concessions and give information. Often if a relationship needs to be repaired, this style can be highly effective. However, realistically, giving away too much can be dangerous.
  • Avoiding – a passive aggressive style in which the avoider skirts the key issues, often employed by those seeking to avoid conflict at all costs. Typically, if the negotiation is over a trivial issue or is relatively simple, then this style may work, but otherwise may lead to deadlock.
  • Compromise – this style involves both sides making concessions and there are no clear winners or losers. Another benefit is this style helps ensure that the relationship between both parties remains strong.
  • Collaborating – this style involves both parties thinking creatively to achieve solutions that leaves both parties satisfied, however, it also demands the most amount of preparation and can often take the longest to conclude.

However, as important as the style of negotiation that you employ is how prepared you are for the negotiation. Key elements of preparing for a negotiation include understanding what you need to get out of the negotiation, what your limits are in terms of where you can compromise and where you cannot, what information you can reveal, you’d rather not reveal, and absolutely can never reveal. You also must know what the other party wants and trying your best to determine where they can compromise and where they likely will not be able to do so.

In order to satisfy these varied factors, you need to be able to thoroughly understand the other party, the nature and history of the relationship between the parties, and what is at stake in the negotiation. Knowing these things will help you better understand the contours of the negotiation, and in turn, will also help you to figure out what negotiation style to employ, which will ultimately allow you to be a more effective negotiator.

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on

Colin Levy Colin S. Levy is Corporate Counsel for and was previously Manager, Contract Negotiations at Pearson Education. As an experienced in-house corporate lawyer, his focus has been on both domestic and global corporate transactions. He also has a strong interest in legal technology and is a strong advocate for its use and application to the practice of law.