A clear purchase signal from the customer and BANG – the sales negotiations are on. As a salesperson, you can of course negotiate in a number of ways. But which one is the best? A model with five styles will give us the answer!

A sales negotiation is basically a form of conflict: you and your customer have different views of one or several aspects of the deal and need to negotiate to come to an agreement. That is why the negotiation is more or less a conflict management. Why am I clarifying this? Because we are using a classic conflict management model.

The model consists of five different styles and was developed by conflict expert M. Afzalur Rahim. It is based on two different parameters: how low/high you prioritise your own needs and how low/high you prioritise your counterpart’s needs. Depending on your priorities, you will use one of five conflict management styles:

conflict management styles

1. Dominating: when you prioritise yourself

The dominating style emerges when you prioritise your own needs before the customer’s. The goal with this style is to “win” and you more or less ignore your customer’s expectations and needs.

“But wait a minute, that’s not very nice,” you might think and consider the dominating style to be useless. And sure, it’s hardly a negotiating style you’ll use very often, but according to M. Afzalur Rahim it is suitable when 1) it’s a trivial matter, 2) a quick decision is required and/or 3) your counterpart lacks experience.

2. Avoiding: when you don’t really care

If you don’t prioritise your own or your customer’s needs, your style will be avoiding. This means you avoid the conflict/negotiation psychologically and – if possible – physically. If you can’t get away from it, you try to avoid taking sides on various issues and showing your feelings.

Sounds like a bad idea? It doesn’t have to be! The avoiding style could arise if you consider the conflict to be impossible to solve, to be trivial, or if you fear a negative result. And according to M. Afzalur Rahim, it can actually be an ok negotiation style if the issue is banal, if you and your counterpart need a break, and/or a confrontation is unnecessary. Perhaps not applicable as main strategy for your sales negotiation, but can definitely be used temporarily or for so-called “non-issues”.

3. Compromising: when you switch sides

If you are using the compromising style, your goal is to find some kind of golden mean in the negotiation. That is why you switch between meeting your own and your customer’s needs. It is not about finding a solution both you and your customer approve of, but taking turns in “giving and taking”.

Since the compromising style means that both you and the customer need to “sacrifice” certain things, it is usually not a negotiation style to recommend. But it can be necessary when you can’t come to an agreement, when the dominating style doesn’t lead to a result and/or when you need a temporary solution.

4. Obliging: when you see the customer’s need

The obliging style emerges when you prioritise your customer’s needs before your own. You tend to be very flexible and dislike confrontations in such a situation since you value the relationship highly and want acknowledgement.

As a salesperson, you’d prefer to meet both your own and your customer’s needs (which we’ll get to soon!), but not prioritising yourself can be necessary sometimes. M. Afzalur Rahim means that you can use the obliging style for example when the issue is more important to your counterpart than to you, and/or when the relationship is worth nurturing in the long-run.

5. Integrating: when you want to find a solution you are both happy with

Finally, we have the integrating style, which means that you prioritise both your own and your counterpart’s needs highly. You don’t want to sacrifice anyone’s needs for the sake of the agreement/collaboration, and you focus on transparency and exploring your different positions. The goal is to find a solution that you both agree on 100%.

This style is especially good when the issue is complex and requires collaboration. The only drawback is that it is rather time-consuming…

Which negotiation style is best?

Generally speaking, the integrating style is of course the best negotiation style – both the deal and the relationship benefit from it. So if you and your customer have time on your side, opt for that one as your first choice!

But there are situations, as we have seen with M. Afzalur Rahim’s model, when you might have to need one or several of the other styles. And of course you can combine styles! To talk about absolute style can therefore be a bit misguiding, I find. What matters is that you, as a sales rep, consider what “level” you are on when entering a negotiation – something I hope the model can help you with. Good luck with your next sales negotiation!