Whether they are aware of it or not, everyone has a natural negotiation style – one that they instinctively default to and feel most comfortable with during negotiations.  

But skilled negotiators tailor their styles to their particular circumstances and objectives, and they might even evolve their style as a negotiation progresses if the situation dictates it. Negotiating with a car salesman calls for different techniques than negotiating your salary, for example. And you might change your style or tactics during a negotiation if you learn new information during the course of it.

There are four key elements that describe personal negotiating style: creating value, claiming value, empathizing with others, and asserting yourself. No style is good or bad, although some can be more effective in certain situations, and the elements represent scales of behavior rather than all-or-nothing traits. Understanding your tendencies and how to leverage them will aid you in your future negotiations, no matter the situation.  

Creating Value

People who create value are creative and always look to expand the pie so there is more potential value to distribute between themselves and the other negotiating parties. They are particularly successful negotiating multi-issue deals or with long-term, repeat customers, which tend to have value-creating potential. If you lean toward value creation, you might benefit from altering your style and trying to claim value in price-driven negotiations, where the potential to create value is slim, and the bottom line is crucial.

Claiming Value

Value claimers are particularly successful in price-driven negotiations where the bottom line is of top importance and they seek to claim most of the value. If you tend to be a value claimer, but you also negotiate multi-issue deals or with long-term, repeat customers, try to see if you can create value rather than focusing on claiming existing value. These scenarios are more likely to have opportunities to expand the pie, and setting a precedent for creating value could bolster your long-term relationships with customers and vendors.

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People who are empathizers manage the difficult challenge of viewing the negotiation from all perspectives. Empathizing with a negotiating counterpart can be difficult, but doing so is crucial to successful outcomes. If you lean toward empathy, don’t forget to balance your empathetic tendencies with your own ability to assert yourself, which is essential to achieving your own best outcome – don't sell yourself short in your desire to show concern for others.


People who tend toward assertion like to take charge in negotiations. Asserting yourself is critical to achieving the best outcome for yourself, but don’t forget to consider your counterpart’s perspective too. To achieve your goals, you must be able to advocate for yourself while still considering all sides involved in the negotiation.

Being able to adapt your style requires both self-awareness and agility, but gravitating toward one of these traits more than others doesn’t mean you’re a bad negotiator. In fact, realizing which style is most comfortable while also understanding that other styles exist is a crucial part of learning to become a stronger negotiator.

The next time you’re going into a negotiation, take some time to think about your goals and how to accomplish them. Is this a one-time deal, or will you have repeated interactions with your negotiation counterpart? Are you negotiating a single issue, or do you have a list of terms to agree upon? Different goals call for different strategies. Consider altering your style to achieve certain goals – it might seem uncomfortable at first, but adapting your style can help you become a master negotiator.

Interested in learning more? Try taking this assessment developed by Professor Mike Wheeler to learn more about your personal negotiation style. 

Natalie Chladek

About the Author

Natalie is an Associate Product Manager at Harvard Business School Online working on Leading with Finance, Negotiation Mastery, and Sustainable Business Strategy. She received her B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University and M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and staying up too late rooting for her Bay Area sports teams.