Beware the difference between collaboration and capitulation next time you negotiate

When you think of win-win negotiation, what comes to mind? Obviously, a key tenet of the win-win approach is the idea of winning together, or mutual gain. But in practical terms, what exactly does this mean? For inexperienced negotiators, striving too hard to show a co-operative approach can blur the line between collaboration and capitulation. What’s the difference? And why does it matter?



In 6 Habits of Savvy Female Negotiators, I define collaboration as working to meet everyone’s needs – including your own. It’s a mutual approach to problem solving or conflict resolution. When negotiators collaborate, they exchange concessions in a balanced way. As conflict resolution trainers say, collaborative negotiators seek power ‘with’ each other rather than power ‘over’ each other. It’s easy to spot these negotiators, because their language stresses relationship – words such as ‘us’ and ‘we’ are used rather than ‘I’ and ‘me.’ Collaboration is all about fairness and balanced exchange.

Capitulation, on the other hand, involves ignoring your own needs to satisfy your counterpart’s needs. When you capitulate, your counterpart’s needs are met but yours aren’t. As a participant in one of my recent training workshops remarked, ‘So capitulation is still win-win, but you’re giving both the wins to the other person.’

Capitulation is expressed through a negotiator’s verbal language and body language. Examples of a capitulator’s language patterns include statements such as, ‘I’m happy with whatever you want. A capitulator’s body language is characterised by what Virginia Satir would call placator behaviours. These involve gesturing with the hands in a pleading position. They create an impression that a negotiator lacks confidence and assertiveness.

If you’re worried that your negotiation style tends towards capitulation, fear not. Fortunately, there is good news. Collaborative behaviours are easy to learn. As a negotiation skills trainer, there are five key body language tips I give to workshop participants. You can use them, too. They’re


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Body language tip 1. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Presenters and actors often call this position ‘being grounded’. It helps you to feel balanced and supported. If you’re sitting and your feet don’t touch the ground, lower your chair or find something to rest your feet on. You’ll be thrilled at the difference this one postural shift makes to your confidence levels.

Body language tip 2. Adopt a relaxed posture. Uncross your arms and legs. Make sure you’re sitting upright and relaxed. If you’re sitting, shift back in your chair until you feel the back-rest supporting you. This prevents you from leaning too far forward in a nervous or tense posture. Notice the sensation of the chair supporting you. This will increase the feeling that you’re grounded and balanced.         

Body language tip 3. Sit silently through pauses in the conversation. Momentarily make eye contact during a pause, but don’t stare your counterpart down. Simply being quiet for a few extra beats will subtly shift the power in the conversation. It will also help you to stay calm and relaxed, which is always useful in tough negotiation scenarios.

Body language tip 4. Use non-verbal matching techniques to establish and maintain rapport. It’s important to be subtle about this. Never match your counterpart move-for-move. Aim to be similar but not identical in your movement patterns. This increases psychological safety levels and decreases stress during tough conversations.

Body language tip 5.  Consciously manage your hand movements. Many nervous negotiators wring their hands or fidget with objects such as reading glasses or pens. Keep your hands still. Only move them when you’re making a deliberate gesture and intend to emphasise a key point. You might find it helpful to video yourself and observe your gesture patterns. Ask yourself whether they increase or decrease your ‘credibility factor’ as a negotiator.

Sign up for your FREE Salary Negotiation Success Kit now. You’ll receive Eleanor’s Earn What You’re Worth negotiation planner tool, plus 6 free training videos.


Don’t just read about these skills. Use them! I’ve seen thousands of nervous -looking women transformed into confident negotiators simply by changing a few habits. Make one change at a time, so you can feel confident as you develop.


About the author of this article

The author of this article, Eleanor Shakiba, is passionate about bringing out the best in people at work.  She has been a trusted coach and trainer to thousands of professionals in high intellect fields. Eleanor is based in Sydney and has an international client base. Her expertise is in using social and emotional intelligence skills to build high performing leaders and teams. She is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.