When people approach conflict or conflict resolution, they typically choose one of five styles of negotiation to handle the conflict—competing, compromising, collaborating, avoiding, and accommodating. These styles describe the way a person can think about, negotiate, and eventually resolve a problem. Most people have a sort of default style that they use for their private, personal conflicts as well as a style that is hard for them to work with while in conflict. However, when someone is dealing with conflict in a more formal setting such as mediation or negotiation, each one of the five types can have a role depending on the situation. Because we do not default to all of the types, it is important to understand how the different types of work and the best situations to use each one. This article will focus on the accommodating style to help identify the appropriate situations and effective use of an accommodating style in a negotiation or mediation in the future.
Characteristics of Accommodating Style
A common characteristic of accommodating style are the phrases, “I’m fine with whatever you’d like,” or “You win. I lose.” People who practice the accommodating style are often called peacemakers, willing to give up what they are asking for to either keep the peace or ensure the relationship between the parties will remain intact after the conflict. Additionally, a person acting in an accommodating style will exhibit the following characteristics:
- Sacrifice: Accommodation often involves a sacrifice to preserve what the accommodator is seeking to keep. This will often look like a party giving up more than other people see as reasonable on the surface.
- Selflessness: Accommodators often come across as selfless, setting aside their needs to provide for the other parties.
- Low Assertiveness: Accommodators will often let the other parties control the situation. When the decisions are being made, the accommodator will often not be the leader of the conversation, and will likely not be vocal about their positions. Occasionally, they will even wait until everyone else has shared their position and then shift their own to make it more appealing to the other side.
- Empathy: Accommodators will often be more concerned with the other person and how they feel about the proposed solutions than they are with their position.
- Yielding: If the conflict becomes more heated or if the positions are in direct opposition, an accommodator may yield their position to preserve the relationship.
- Undercutting: Accommodators may undersell their own position to convince the other party to pick their own.
Benefits of the Accommodating Style:
While some of the characteristics listed above may seem negative, the accommodating style has many benefits, both for people who default to accommodation and those using it strategically. For many negotiators, the returns on an accommodating style outweigh the losses felt in giving into the other side. Benefits of using this style include:
- Preserving Relationships: When one of the parties in a conflict is willing to give more, it tends to preserve the relationship between the parties and open up communication. This can also make the other party more willing to work with the negotiator in the future, so it can be used strategically in this way.
- Friendliness: There is often a spirit of friendliness when one of the parties is accommodating. When the non-accommodating party sees the willingness to compromise, they often respond with kindness, which will help move negotiations move.
- Preventing Further Conflict: When the conflict is solved without much negotiation or a fight, it becomes more likely that the non-accommodating party will be willing to work with the accommodating party in the future without conflict.
Drawbacks of Accommodating:
While there are benefits to using an accommodating style, there are also several drawbacks that may cause issues in a negotiation. Understanding the issues that may arise will help keep the negotiation on track and help a skilled negotiator move into a different style when the other party starts to take advantage of the accommodator. Several of these drawbacks include:
- Sign of Weakness: Highly competitive style negotiators often see accommodators as weak and will try and take advantage of the situation if they see the sacrifice.
- Poor Bargaining Position: If an accommodator gives away too much of their bargaining power in the beginning, they can be left with very little when more power is needed.
- Spirit of Obligation: Occasionally, offering a gift or a larger amount at the beginning may make the other party feel as if they are obligated to reciprocate, which can turn into resentment.
- Deep Pockets: A generous offer near the beginning can signal to the other party that the accommodator has more to give and potentially large or infinite resources.
- Ideas Ignored: Because accommodators do not share their opinion often, their ideas and needs may not be taken into consideration when the settlement is being decided.
- Loss of Credibility: Overaccommodating may cause the other party to feel like the issue is not being taken seriously or that there is no way to settle.
- Uneven Results: Accommodators may often settle for offers that are below what is fair and acceptable to them and far above what the other party was hoping to receive.
- Sense of Inadequacy: Because accommodators may not receive what they hoped for to avoid conflict, accommodators may feel that they are not capable of negotiating or doing well.
These drawbacks may have consequences in a negotiation, but many of these situations can be avoided with proper research and preparation. Understanding when accommodating will be helpful or harmful is a vital aspect of that preparation.
Proper Times to Use Accommodating Style:
There are several situations when an accommodating personality can be a strategic step in a negotiation. Some of these situations include:
- Olive Branch: If one party is at fault and would like to repair or preserve the relationship, it can be a mending gesture to respond to negotiations in an accommodating way.
- Less Important Issue: Accommodating on issues that are not as important to the overall goals can encourage the other party to respond kindly on more important issues.
- Less Expertise: If one party has a better option or more expertise than the other, it can be beneficial for the less experienced party to follow the other’s lead.
- Low-Risk Negotiation: If the outcome of the dispute is a lower risk to one party, it can be helpful to accommodate the other party and not cause unnecessary conflict.
- Teaching Others From Their Mistakes: When the goal for one party is to teach the other that their position will fail, but cannot convince them otherwise, allowing that strategy to start and fail can be more helpful than convincing the other party in negotiations.
- Important Relationships: When preserving or building a relationship is more important than achieving the perfect outcome, it can be beneficial to accommodate to preserve the relationship. This is especially important when one party has a position of power over the other.
- Harmony: When the conversation has been tense and full of conflict, one party giving a little to benefit the other and restore harmony can drastically improve the situation.
- Customer Service: Satisfying a customer compliant through accommodation can be vital to provide proper customer service.
- Realizing You’re Wrong: If one of the parties realizes that their position is wrong, it can be beneficial to end the negotiation by accommodating and meeting the other’s position.
Accommodating as a Default:
The rest of this article has focused on when to strategically use an accommodating style; however, it is also important to understand how to proceed when one tends to accommodate in everyday life. If someone’s default style of conflict resolution leans more heavily toward accommodating, it is important to know that accommodators are often well-liked and respected by their colleges and opposite parties. They are perceived as friendly and willing to work with other people and find common ground. Accommodators are skilled negotiators and can achieve a good result for themselves or their clients, but they will need to be aware of when the accommodating side takes over. Some points or warning signs to be aware of are:
- Resentment or Anger: If someone has conceded in an argument and feels resentment or anger, that is a likely sign that what they gave up was more important to them than they realized. Noticing this may help them understand where your interests lie.
- Multiple Sacrifices: If someone is sacrificing over and over again in a negotiation or conflict, it may be a sign that they are being steamrolled by a competitive personality. In this case, it is important to acknowledge what is important to them and to stand up for it, even if there is some conflict.
- Stubbornness: Often, when accommodators feel as though they are being a “pushover,” they tend to dig their heels in to regain some ground and end up in defensive mode. When this happens, it is important to acknowledge what positions would be best to set aside quickly, and what positions are worth sticking with.
Whether accommodating is one’s natural style or if they are using it strategically, it is important to understand and research their most important goals. If the goal is preserving the relationship between them and the other party or achieving a winning outcome, it is important to understand when accommodating can be strategically used to gain ground or save face when needed. Watching for signs that accommodating is not working in their best interests and keeping themselves in check will help them to achieve the best possible outcome while remaining friendly with the opposing party. The balance may be difficult, but the benefits of accommodation will often be well worth the work.