Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What type of HEA do You Prefer: Accomodation or Collaboration?

At the March meeting of the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America, attorney Alisha Bloom gave a presentation on different negotiating strategies, and how romance writers might draw on these strategies in construction their characters and conflicts. Drawing on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Bloom listed these five common negotiating styles:

• Avoiding
• Accomodating
• Compromising
• Competing
• Collaborating

These styles all sounded familiar to me, and I could easily assign each to different people in my life (and to different characters in romance novels). What was new was the underlying relationship Thomas and Kilmann posit between these five styles. They do not appear on a linear continuum, but rather along a dual axis, one the degree to which the outcome of a dispute matters, the other the degree to which the relationship matters. Or, in other words, how much do your wants and needs matter, and how much do you care about the wants and needs of the person or group with whom you are negotiating? (The Thomas-Killman instrument actually posits these axes as personality issues, with one axis = degree of assertiveness, the other = degree of cooperativeness).

People and characters who choose an Avoidance style of negotiating typically cluster close to the zero point on both of these axes: they don't care that much about the outcome, nor do they care that much about the relationship between themselves and the person or group with whom they are negotiating. Those who use a  Compete strategy cluster on the high end of the "care more about their own wants and needs" axis, but low on the "care about the wants and needs of the other" axis. And those who use an Accomodate strategy cluster around the point diagonally opposite that of the competitors: high on the "care for the needs of others" and low on the "care for own needs."

One might think that a "Compromise" strategy would be the goal in a successful negotiation. But in the examples Bloom provided from romance novels (all recently published), the protagonists moved not toward compromise (splitting things evenly, so each side wins a bit and loses a bit), a cluster at the midpoint of both axes, but towards the "Collaborate" strategy: a strategy that cares highly about both the needs of the self and the needs of the other.

Bloom asked us if we thought that this was a general goal of romance: to move characters through the arc of caring either too much or not enough for self, or too much or not enough for others, towards not compromise, which is a "split everything fifty fifty" type of negotiating, but towards collaboration: a strategy which seeks new ways to meet both sides' needs. "Expanding the pie" is one way to put it, but in terms of romance writing, Bloom described the character movement as one in which the romantic protagonists move towards valuing both their own and the other's goals and desires, and seek ways to have both sides' needs met.

A lively discussion followed Bloom's presentation.  I pointed out that unlike the 21st century romance novels that Bloom had used as examples in her presentation (Julie James' Practice Makes Perfect, one example), in which Collaboration proved to be the end goal, Old Skool romances generally held up the "accomodation" style as the heart of a true HEA. Older romances, which value the "taming" the the alpha hero, a taming that causes him to not only admit his feelings of love for the heroine, but also to recognize the value of emotional work typically carried out by the female half of the population, require their heroes not to compromise or to collaborate, but instead to "accomodate": to give up their own needs or desires (because they are misguided and harmful) and to replace those needs and desires with those of their heroines.

Some agreed that in more modern romances, "Collaboration" appeared far more often than "Accomodation." And some stated that they preferred this type of HEA to one that "tames" the hero, one that makes him fall at the feet of the heroine. "I want the protagonists to work together, to value each other and their goals equally," said one member.

But others expressed a continued preference for the "Accomodation" HEA over the "Collaboration" one.  "I will give up anything and everything for you, that's what I want to hear from the hero at the end of the romance" one person noted. "That's what makes me feel." Another noted, "This is a fantasy, not real life. In real life, you compromise. But the fantasy of romance is that your hero will do what you as a woman want. He'll come home and do the dishes."

The conversation made me wonder: how many romance readers prefer "collaborative" HEA's, and how many prefer "accomodation" HEA's? Is this a generational thing? Or does it depend more on one's own real-life expectations about and experiences of gendered behavior? My partner already does do the dishes (at least on weekdays; on the weekends he cooks, and I pick up the dishcloth), so my fantasy is not about finding a guy who will do that. If your partner doesn't, and neither of you expect that he will, are you more likely to wish for an accomodation HEA?

Would love to hear your own preferences, readers, as well as your thoughts on using a negotiating strategy model to think about romance novel endings.

Photo credits:
Negotiation styles chart: Negotiation Experts
Compromise: Redbubble
Win Win: Thought Exchange


  1. This has made me think a lot about why I read romance. There's definitely a fantasy-fulfillment component to it, in that I love HEAs (or HFNs too). I love that moment when after lots of angst and strife, everything sort of clicks together and is just as it should be, if only for a little bit. I love looking for the idea of perfect love and loving perfectly (and how those things look different in different characters).

    I see the appeal of having a hero accommodate, considering (at least in the U.S.) there's a culture of teaching women to accommodate, martyr, put their needs and desires last, etc. So seeing that inverted can be refreshing. But so often it seems like accommodations at the end of a romance novel are often ways heroes compensate for not treating the heroine as they should at other points the novel. I know conflict is necessary, but I'm not a big fan of the be-a-jerk/make-it-up-with-a-grand-gesture cycle. Of course, not all accommodations play out like this, but in these scenarios, it feels to me like the heroine is being bought off. (Using gender specific language here as I feel like this is a dynamic really rooted in gender expectations, I think it'd read different with same sex couples).

    I guess I prefer collaboration because it just feels more balanced to me, and that's what I like in my HEAs, that sense of equilibrium being reached. In a collaboration, both characters are actively involved in creating a positive outcome. In an accommodation, one character is actively giving something and the other is passively receiving it. To root for them, I want both characters to show that they are capable of giving and receiving love.

    1. I didn't think about the idea of the heroine being "bought off" by an accomodating hero. Good point!

  2. As a reader and a writer, I don't have a preference, because I don't think it is a case of either/or, that there is only accommodation or collaboration. In real life, partners do both. If they want to be together, they might need to make adjustments, and in order to make things work, they will have to collaborate. These patterns exist in dating and they exist long afterwards, persisting throughout a marriage. Adjustments and collaborations exist in a continuing cycle.

    1. Interesting idea, Barbara. Do you think the both/and ending is often featured in romance, unlike in real life? Or are romances more of an either/or?

  3. I tend to see both in romance, accommodation and collaboration, from both partners, because their journey to a hea is a journey in growth for each of them, and it is clear from the pages. But others might not see it that way. Perhaps in older novels where there was only one pov (the heroine's), accommodation seemed to be from her side only, and the hero took the lead in collaboration. But modern novels often have a dual pov, so we see each partner's growth.

  4. What an interesting post, Jackie! I’m going to have to mull over this a bit. Off the top, I think I have always intrinsically preferred collaboration in my HEA. Several older skool romances are coming to mind, where the HEA depends on either the hero or the heroine saying “Oh never mind, I never really wanted ____ anyway”-- and that always rang false to me! How would these characters feel once the frantic love feels have normalized a bit?
    However, I think it would be really powerful to see the “accommodation” style taken on and subverted in the way that so many newer romances are doing these days.

    1. Thanks, Kath, for stopping by. Yes, the ringing false aspect is a big part of why I'm not usually a fan of the accomodation HEA. But now you've got me wondering—how might an author subvert such an ending??

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