How to Win More Negotiations by Changing Your Conflict Style

This is Part 5 of a multi-part series on getting better results from your negotiations. While our content on Modern da Vinci is tailored toward small business owners, these simple strategies will help anyone gain confidence in their negotiation skills. Click below if you missed parts 1 through 4:

Our past four posts have focused on skills and strategies drawn from leading sources on negotiation best practices, particularly Getting to Yes and the Harvard Program on Negotiation. This post is about a related subject – how your personal “Conflict Management” style will shape your tendencies in negotiations and, more importantly, how you can adjust your style to give you better control and results.

When a conflict arises, most people have a default approach for how they handle the situation. Many of us are not conscious of our conflict style; we respond automatically without giving thought to the circumstances.

This is significant in the context of negotiations. A negotiation is a type of conflict – a situation where your concerns and interests are not aligning with those of another person, and you are actively seeking a solution.

Understanding your tendencies in responding to conflict, and how you may need to adjust them, will give you an advantage as you work through a negotiation. If you can assess each conflict and negotiation situationally, you can intentionally utilize the style that will be most beneficial to you.

Conflict Styles

As defined by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Killmann, authors of the widely utilized Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), there are two basic dimensions of conflict behavior:

  • Assertiveness – The degree to which you try to satisfy your own concerns.
  • Cooperativeness – The degree to which you try to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

Your personal conflict style reflects your balance between these two dimensions. Some people are highly assertive in conflict, while others are highly cooperative. Others fall somewhere in between.

The Thomas-Kilmann model defines five Conflict-Handling Modes, each of which has varying degrees of Assertiveness or Cooperativeness. They are Avoiding, Competing, Accommodating, Compromising, and Collaborating. We’ll fully explore each style in future posts, but for now, let’s take a look closer at the two most “extreme” styles in terms of assertiveness and cooperativeness:

  • Competing – The Competing style is highly assertive. Those who employ a Competing approach to conflict seek to satisfy their own concerns, and they are willing to do so at the expense of others.
  • Accommodating – The Accommodating style is highly cooperative. Those who Accommodate are willing to sacrifice their own concerns to appease the needs of others.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about either of these modes. They both have benefits and costs depending on the situation. The table below summarizes a few of each:





·       Enables you to assert a position

·       May lead to a quick victory

·       Can help you defend yourself and your views from attack

·       Can restore harmony and smooth other a challenging situation

·       Builds relationships

·       Allows you to move on quickly


·       Strains relationships

·       Results in one-sided, suboptimal decisions

·       May cause deadlock

·       Conceded concerns

·       Loss of respect from others

·       Loss of your commitment and motivation

For those of you who are familiar with the concepts of Principled Negotiation, you’ll quickly note that these modes align very closely with the “Hard” and “Soft” approaches of positional bargaining. Hard bargaining means pursuing your position at all costs to achieve a victory; soft bargaining is giving up whatever is necessary to reach an agreement.

How can you apply these a knowledge of conflict mode to get better results from negotiations? First, reflect on your experiences with conflict and become more conscious of your tendencies in how you respond. Ask yourself, are you more likely to Compete (be aggressive in pushing your view or demand) or Accommodate (let things go to avoid a difficult situation)?

(If you’d like to complete your own TKI assessment, you can do so online here. We regularly utilize this instrument as part of our coaching and training engagements.)

Once you understand your natural response, consider how you might intentionally change your style and approach depending on the situation. Here are two real-life examples:

For Someone Who Tends to Compete

The Situation - You have a disagreement with an important supplier over the timing of a delivery and you need to negotiate a resolution. Your initial reaction is to assert your position aggressively. You feel strongly that you are in the right, and decide that you need to prevail in this argument to prove a point. You are committed to forcing the supplier to accept your viewpoint and solution.

Consider the Benefits and Costs – By pressuring the supplier into accepting your position, you may coerce them to concede and earn a quick victory. However, your approach may result in diminished trust and long-term damage to the relationship. It may also result in a stalemate that harms your business operations.

What You Might Try Instead – Slow things down before jumping directly to a competing approach. Make an honest assessment of your demands. Are they reasonable? Ask yourself, is there a reason why the supplier is taking their position? Take off your “blame” hat and replace it with your “problem solving” hat. Is it possible that there are strategies that may lead to a mutually agreeable resolution? It’s likely that you can find a better solution, one that solves the problem while preserving the relationship, by engaging the issue with a more curious mindset.

For Someone Who Tends to Accommodate

The Situation - Your business partner is pushing a strategic a decision that you do not agree with. While you’ve lightly mentioned a few points of disagreement, your partner seems intent on moving ahead. Your natural instinct is to withhold your true feedback, let this go, and hope that things work out in the long run.

Consider the Benefits and Costs – This approach will ease any tension around the decision. After all, it’s your partner, and you’d rather not strain the relationship. However, giving in means you’re holding in your thoughts and feelings on an important issue. Your partner may see you as a pushover.

What You Might Try Instead – Before you concede and worry about restoring harmony, consider the true cost/benefit of accommodating your partner on this decision. Ask yourself, is smoothing things over in the short run worth potential resentment and further dissension in the long run? Does this set a precedent for appeasement in the future? If you sense that you’ll regret withholding your view down the road, engage your partner in an honest discussion where you share your concerns. Look at the situation through the eyes of partnership, not conflict.  

Guide Yourself to a Successful Result

Both scenarios highlight opportunities to assess your natural instincts and to decide whether they will serve you well. If not, be intentional about taking a different path that employs other approaches and conflict modes. Once you’ve navigated through the initial stages of a conflict and have committed to dialogue, use the skills that we’ve outlined in the previous posts to guide you to a successful result.

About the Author

Seth Sinclair


Seth Sinclair is a leadership coach, management consultant, trainer, and facilitator with a passion for helping his clients achieve their personal and professional goals. Reach out by emailing him at or learn more on our About page.