In negotiation, personalities matter

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As a negotiation and mediation specialist, I was struck by the article “How Much Does Personality in Negotiation Matter?” offered by the Harvard Program on Negotiation. Working with a challenging counterpart and a client who is agreeable to working things out, this article hit a nerve. I shared this article with my client, and we took a professional yet less agreeable approach to the negotiation. Read on about personalities in a negotiation and how this negotiation turned out.


Background going into a negotiation.


When preparing for a negotiation, do you pause to consider your counterpart beforehand? Does it matter if the other person is an extrovert or introvert?  Is the person more of the agreeable type or very position-based? Is the other person principled and interested in a better outcome for both parties? Is the other person neurotic and more concerned about their social image or saving face?  Is the other party open-minded and curious to find a solution that works?

In an article in the American Psychological  Association titled Personality similarities in negotiations: Testing the dyadic effects of similarity in interpersonal traits and the use of emotional displays on negotiation outcomes by Wilson, Matta, Howe, and Conion it was found that overall those with similar personalities negotiated best with each other.  If two negotiators have disagreeable personalities, they deal best with each other.  If two parties are amenable and want to work towards a resolution, they work best together.

Ironically, the two disagreeable personalities did better with each other

 than the two agreeable personalities.

When both parties see others with similar behaviors, they appreciate each other more.


Personalities in a negotiation


Myers Briggs offers 16 different personality types based on extroversion versus introversion, intuitive versus sensing, thinking versus feeling and judging versus perceiving. It is also possible that a given preference may be dominant or that an individual may be on the border between the preferences. The critical takeaway is that we are all unique and come with a preference as we enter the workplace and a negotiation.

Knowing your own and that of the other party can be helpful.

 It is also important to realize only some people put more faith in this information. I have found this helpful, and I would ask the other party if they have taken the Myers-Briggs test and, if they have, if they would be willing to share that with me. I also ask if they have a dominant letter or are on the borderline with any preference pairs. These all help me and my clients when I am negotiating.


Extroverts and introverts


The Harvard article indicates that, whereas an initial inclination may be that the outgoing extravert who likes to hear himself talk and is optimistic and assertive may be the better negotiator, the introvert has several personality traits that may be more useful. Introverts tend to listen better, which is crucial in any negotiation.

Introverts tend to deliberate and think more broadly,

 considering that the introvert may take more time to deliberate in private.

The extrovert may be more impulsive and should have taken the time to consider the solution's ramifications.  These are all possibilities, so know this as a negotiator and take steps to be aware of this when going into a negotiation, whether you are an extrovert or introvert. It has been found advantageous if you are part of a team to have others on your team with very different personalities that may assist you with your blind spots.




There is no substitute for learning all you can about your counterparts on social media, your peers, and other sources. Studies consistently found that those who went into the negotiations prepared tend to do better. Working cases with the IRS as a negotiator, helping taxpayers,

I have advised my clients to have five computations ready for the negotiation.

These are your and their starting positions and know how each made their computation.  Know your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). We will go to the next level if we don’t receive at least this. Compute two other alternatives between your position and your BATNA. This will provide you with computations to resolve the issue on examination or to settle the case based on the hazards of litigation at Appeals. If in  Appeals, include a legal analysis citing pertinent court cases, codes, regulations, revenue rulings, and other relevant information.  

Coming with an attitude of openness and creativity tends to result in better outcomes. On the other hand, coming in wanting to save face and with an attitude of winning tended to have more impasses.


How did the negotiation with the IRS turn out?


In a recent negotiation with the IRS on an exam on a technical issue, the agent gave the IRS technical issue specialist total latitude on the issue. We researched all we could about their personalities. The agent was amenable. The specialist saw the world as black and white and recommended total disallowance. A meeting was requested by the taxpayer with the agent’s manager. The agent’s manager was a good listener.  He sympathized with the taxpayer but felt he had to go with the specialist.  A last follow-up meeting was held with all parties involved, including the agent manager and specialist manager. This time, the taxpayer came prepared with all five alternatives and took an assertive view relative to the facts and the law with pertinent court cases and different regulation section examples than the specialist had used.  The managers reluctantly realized that the specialist was representing an extreme view.  They broke up for an internal meeting. After that meeting, they asked for a reasonable proposal from the taxpayer. The taxpayer offered a proposal between options 2 and 3 of the five possibilities prepared beforehand.  The IRS accepted this.  Being prepared by researching the parties, having options, and reflecting on the other side's personality go a long way toward issue resolution in a negotiation.


Check out these links if you need assistance, want to learn more about resolving issues with the IRScollaboration, conflict resolution, or enhance your Servant Manager skills.  

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]