The human side of negotiation

*This content comes from Lexis®PSL and features external links to subscriber-only content*

Produced in partnership with Beth Pipe FCIPD of OnLive Learning

When entering into any negotiation, be it a multimillion-pound business deal or agreeing the office coffee rota, there are two main elements to consider: the structure and stages of the negotiation and the human aspect, ie emotions and negotiation style.

In this Lexis®PSL Practice Note we consider the second element:

  • the human element of negotiations
  • understanding your own natural negotiation style
  • responding to the natural style of others
  • dodgy tricks and tactics and how to deal with them

See Lexis®PSL Practice Note: The structure of a negotiation for guidance on the first element.

The human element of negotiations

When faced with a negotiation, we often experience a range of emotions, eg fear, excitement, anxiety, depending on how negotiations have gone for us in the past. A negotiation isn’t just about the structure, a skilled negotiator will also take into account the styles and natural attributes of whomever they are negotiating with and adapt their tactics accordingly.

There is no such thing as the perfect negotiator, as different people bring different attributes to the table in different circumstances. Successful negotiators share a number of key characteristics:


They recognise they may not get everything all in one sitting


Always looking for different ways to satisfy the requirements of everyone


Able to change to conditions in the market and around the negotiating table

Ask lots of questions

Knowledge is power and asking questions can give knowledge

Doesn’t annoy the other side

They recognise the importance of the long-term relationship

Control emotions

Not giving in to shouting and tantrums to get their way


Portraying a confident manner, even if they may not always feel it

Well prepared

Have done their research and understand what’s on the table

Play to their strengths

Understand their own style and how to use it to maximum effect


Able to adapt their personal style to influence others

Understanding your own natural negotiation style

Based on the work of the psychologist Carl Jung, there are four different communication styles: controllers, advocates, analysts and facilitators. The table below sets out the key attributes of each style and should help you to identify your natural or preferred style of negotiating as well as helping you to recognise the natural style of others. When reading through the four different styles there are a few things to bear in mind:

  • you will probably be able to identify with at least one element in all of them
  • it's likely there will be one or two that you identify with more strongly than the others
  • there is no right or wrong—it is simply about recognising the strengths and weaknesses of your own natural style and understanding how and when to adapt it
  • when faced with any self-assessment activity there is a danger that we simply reinforce our own views of ourselves—for a more accurate idea of how you are perceived, invite feedback from those who have seen you negotiate
  • all of them have positive qualities
  • communication style alone is no indication of whether a person is “nice” or effective in their role



Highly assertive but not emotional communicators.

Typified as “I want” as they only want the facts and they want them now, with no waffle


Short, sharp, to the point emails

Irritated by things that get in the way, whether they are family, friends or colleagues

Typically single-minded

Often well respected but possibly perceived as aloof

Highly assertive but more emotional in their style of communicating and the language they use. They are generally interested in the bigger picture

Relate well to others and good listening skills come naturally

Keen to build business relationships rather than just transact

Seen as confident and assured by others

Typically use more emotive language rather than sticking to cold, hard facts

Quick to make decisions



Less assertive and emotional than other styles and generally want lots of facts before committing to anything.

Slow decision makers as they want to analyse the details before they decide

Usually have excellent attention to detail and a fondness for reading the small print

Often quieter and perceived as lacking confidence (may or may not be true)

Think things through before speaking

Less assertive but more emotionally engaged with those around them. People who are focused on people.


High levels of empathy

Cooperative approach to problem solving

Dislikes confrontation and will try to avoid

Less comfortable with strong focus on the business need

Keen to ensure everyone is supported

Responding to the natural style of others

Having identified your own natural style your attention should now turn to the natural style of others. Read the table above again and consider how we may jump to conclusions about others based purely on the way they communicate. For example, a facilitator may perceive the short sharp style of the controller to be rude or brusque whereas controllers may see facilitators as being weak and ineffective.

When we are negotiating with others, we can influence them more easily by adopting elements of the communication style with which they are most comfortable. The table below gives you clear and simple guidelines for working with each different communication style:


What they want

When negotiating with them

The meeting to be over as soon as possible

A clear focus on facts

Short, sharp, to the point conversations

Clear indications of business benefits

Be clear, specific, to the point and stick to business

Be prepared with everything required

Present facts logically, clearly

Always address the facts, not the person

What you need to watch out for

When negotiating with them don’t

Insensitivity to other team member’s needs

Inability to listen

Expectations too high of self and others

Tendency to criticise without offering solutions

Ramble on, waffle or waste their time

Try to build personal relationships

Be disorganised or messy

Try to convince by appealing to personal issues or incentives


What they want

When negotiating with them

Reassurance about risks

Detailed feedback about achievements and shortfalls

Clear timetables

Time to think and answer questions

Prepare and distribute information in advance

Take your time but be persistent

List pros and cons of your argument

Provide practical solutions and evidence

Minimise sense of risk

What you need to watch out for

When negotiating with them don’t

Decisions that have been put off

So much attention to detail that the overall picture may be lost

Information not passed on to the rest of the team

Isolation from the rest of the team

Be too casual or informal

Leave things to chance

Rush the process

Use opinions or unreliable, unknown sources

Push too hard or give unrealistic deadlines


What they want

When negotiating with them

Time to chat and build a relationship

Feedback on how they are doing

New directions and tasks

An emotional engagement or incentive

Allow time for socialising

Be prepared to talk about people

Put things in writing, with specific actions

Quote or involve people they regard as important

What you need to watch out for

When negotiating with them don’t

Lack of attention to detail

Starting on too many new and exciting tasks

More enthusiasm than judgement

A tendency to see a rosy coloured view

Be sharp or cold

Focus only on facts and figures

Leave decisions open – get closure

Be too task oriented


What they want

When negotiating with them

Close attention to personal needs

Opportunity to discuss successes and failures

Responsibility for welfare of others


Use personal comments to warm up

Find areas of common involvement

Be patient: listen, be responsive

Present your argument without threat

What you need to watch out for

When negotiating with them don’t

Conflicts that have been avoided

Tendency to solve other people’s problems while shelving their own

Lack of initiative

Tendency to side-track

Be tempted to decide for them

Domineer, demand, or threaten

Be too rigid about the agenda, but keep sight of the goals

Force quick responses

Dodgy tricks and tactics and how to deal with them

When negotiating, not everyone plays fair and some individuals will try to sway a negotiation by using a range of tricks and tactics. Recognising what they are doing is one thing, but knowing how to respond is another, especially when you are under pressure.

Here are some ideas to consider when you are in any of these scenarios: 



How to counter

Controlling the agenda

Refusing to let other people have a say. Dominating proceedings

Refer back to the agenda and agreed timeframes

Ask questions directed at others to draw in their views

Agree a time slot for each person to put their case uninterrupted

Aggressive behaviour

Shouting, swearing, finger pointing, intimidation tactics

Suggest a break to allow tempers to cool

Highlight the inappropriate behaviour “I am happy to continue these discussions but only if you refrain from using abusive language”

Be prepared to walk away

Everything is rubbish

Trashing you, your firm, your ideas....

Call their bluff—if you are so rubbish ask why you are there

Ask questions to clarify details of specific complaints

Ask what they would like to see instead


Big desk/chair versus little chair, keep you waiting, power handshakes

Ignore it

If kept waiting, take other work to read through

In future suggest an alternate venue or time

Do not be tempted into a tit-for-tat retaliation

I need it now!

Giving you urgent and unrealistic timescales to keep you on your toes.

Ask why

Be clear about what can be delivered and the timescales involved

Be ready to say no if you are genuinely unable to meet their demands

You scratch my back

Promising you good deals in the future if you roll over this time.

Remember that unwritten promises are not worth the paper they’re not written on

Only agree to things if they are enforceable in the future

Ask them for a formal proposal

Fobbing you off

“It’s incredibly difficult”, “our standard terms are”, “we never usually...”

Listen, listen, listen—what are they not saying?

Difficult does not equal impossible—explore what could be done

Push to see why standard terms can’t be adapted

Lexis®PSL Precedent: Negotiation tactics cheatsheet provides tips on how to counter negotiation tricks and tactics.

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