BYU Law Professor Gerald R. Williams, taught a graduate-level negotiations class at Harvard and BYU. I found it to be very instructive.

He taught a theory that there are fundamentally two negotiation styles:

  • Aggressive 
  • Cooperative

He said that aggressive negotiations are characterized by a “game” that participants “play,” where rules change, and “truth” is practiced in a very technically precise (and often misleading) manner. And that overall intent and approach is hidden and closed.

He taught that cooperative negotiation, on the other hand, is characterized by trust, where parties are willing to be open in pursuit of a better overall agreement. Such agreements can be “synergistic” in nature, to use the Stephen Covey concept from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Gains in fact can be maximized using cooperative negotiating methods. But there is as danger if one negotiator enters into an aggressive posture. If that happens, the other negotiator must also become aggressive, or else the aggressive negotiator will have the advantage. 

Professor Williams taught that if both parties are willing to engage in Cooperative Negotiation, they can creatively explore new scenarios often unavailable without the help of the other. And in the process, discover “partnering” relationships (something like Covey’s win-win relationships).

To attempt Cooperative negotiation, and accompanying higher gains, negotiators must develop capacities to see behavioral and communication cues that tend to aggression or cooperation, and capacities to switch from one style to another.


Aggressive negotiators tend to “start high.” Whether it is an asking price, or a feature set, aggressive negotiators ask for more than they “need” because they expect the other side to push back and push down, regardless of the “needs” of the other side. They tend to have negotiating parameters that therefore seem excessive. They play “games” like good-cop-bad-cop. If a deal is reached too quickly, they tend to renegotiate for more, by saying that they first need to check with a boss or that the boss won’t allow it.


A cooperative negotiator tries to understand and figure out ways of achieving the needs of the other party, and might get creative about how it can be done. A cooperative negotiator identifies a future that would be compelling and good for both parties, and develops and modifies that vision based upon the other’s ideas too.

To Williams, the best negotiators seek mutually great outcomes, but if they can’t, because one party pursues an aggressive stance, then Williams’ approach is to engage and win the aggressive negotiations. And later, when the dust settles, and before “taking as much as the aggressive stance allows,” they practice a certain element of “noblesse oblige,” and give back a part of the aggressive winnings to the less skilled party so that the relationship is condusive to an ongoing “relationship,” which can be sustainable (and not grow to be resentful) over time.

I once negotiated a 33% ownership of a company, Printelligent Corp, that I consulted with, which was based upon certain low initial compensations and high later performances. As the company became successful, and before it was sold to Hewlett Packard, I gave back my 33% because I felt that the husband-and-wife owners had sacrificed far more than I, and that both the husband and wife needed 50% ownership, and also that my compensation had already been fair. Incidentally, I believe that the company was later divested by HP.