Relationship Management & Negotiation Styles

Individuals and groups manage their relationships and negotiate their goals and aims in a variety of ways. The following five terms/labels represent ways of identifying and understanding different relationship management styles: competing, avoidingaccommodating, compromising and collaborating.

No single relationship and project management style is the “cure-all” or “fail safe” approach. Rather, the appropriateness of each style is dependent on the specific opportunity and context – who your partner is and what their style is. While most of us use all of the styles to some degree, we also tend to have a dominant style with which we feel most comfortable.

Each style of relationship management can be described in terms of the individual’s or group’s commitment to:

  • Their personal desire goals; and
  • Their relationship with the party.

If we are in a partnership or collaboration we should either be accommodating, compromising, or collaborating, as all three of those styles rank the value of the relationship from medium to high. Competing (win/lose) or avoiding have no place in a partnership or collaboration.

Summary of Relationship Management Styles

Competing – An individual pursues his/her goal at the expense of the other’s goal and, sometimes, at the expense of the relationship. Deriving power from expertise, authority, position, and/or majority rule, s/he seeks to “win” as a means of resolving the conflict. In an extreme form, this style can damage people and relationships.

– Appropriate when the relationship is not important; in an emergency
situation; processing trivial issues; it is the agreed-upon mechanism.

Avoiding – An individual seeks to resolve the conflict without explicitly pursuing his/her goals or pursuing the maintenance of the relationship through direct interaction. As a result, the avoiding response does not involve open discussion of the issues in conflict.

When used in excess, this style can facilitate the denial of conflict, thereby causing the gradual disintegration of healthy relationships.

– Appropriate when: the issue and relationship are not important;
a cooling-off period is needed; the timing is extremely important.

Accommodating – An individual seeks to resolve the conflict without explicitly pursuing her/his goals while actively pursuing the maintenance of the relationship. As a result, the accommodating response involves discovering and facilitating the achievement of the other’s goals. Those utilizing this approach excessively ignore, suppress, or deny their own goals in order to satisfy the goals of the other party, often causing the deterioration of healthy relationships.

– Appropriate when the issue and one’s goals are not important
or relevant and preserving the relationship is extremely important.

Compromising – The individual using this style allows for the partial realization of the other’s goals even though, in doing so, s/he obtains only partial realization of her/his goals. The compromising approach typically includes each party giving up something and gaining something to achieve resolution. People using this style to excess miss opportunities for creative solutions and instead settle for a solution that all parties consider inadequate which, in turn, leads to a sense of frustration and future “flare-ups” around the same issue(s).

– Appropriate when co-operation is important but time or resources are limited; the issues are important but do not warrant extensive collaboration; there is a danger of stalemate; a temporary, interim solution is required.

Collaborating – The individual attempts to fully achieve his/her goals while also maintaining the relationship and facilitating the full realization of the goals of the other. In the collaborating response, emphasis is placed on understanding each other’s specific values and interests, from which a solution is derived that is acceptable to all involved. In using this style to excess, people cause a sense of “analysis paralysis” in which parties to the dispute feel frustrated over the length of the deliberations, the lack of action and/or clear direction and the sense that the process is “making a mountain out of the molehill.”

– Appropriate when the relationship and goals are both significant and there is sufficient time and commitment to resolve the conflict. Not only is it possible but common to enter a collaboration with an entity that we may be competing within a different context.

Not only is it possible but common to enter a collaboration with an entity that we may be competing with in a different context.

Individuals and organizations can, with experience and training (including coaching and facilitation, acquire capacity and expertise for undertaking collaborations.

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