How Can Negotiators Build Trust During A Negotiation?

Negotiators have to know how to both build and earn trust
Negotiators have to know how to both build and earn trust
Image Credit: Joi Ito

If you want to be able to reach a deal with the other side of the table, then you are both going to have to find a way to trust each other. Although this is easy to say, it can be very hard to actually do. When we enter into a negotiation, we may know nothing about the people that we will be negotiating with – and they may not know us. What we need to do is to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to search for ways that will allow trust to be developed during the negotiation so that we can have a hope of being able to reach a deal with them.

A Successful Negotiation Is All About Building Trust

As negotiators, we need to understand that some of the most integral skills that we can acquire include bargaining skills and tactics for building trust while negotiating. Most negotiators approach negotiations with the hope that we will share information, build a relationship, and be treated fairly by the other side. But once talks get started, most negotiators have also had the experience of holding back information, viewing the other side’s behavior with suspicion, and feeling distrusted by them.

During a negotiation, you might even find yourself making concessions simply to avoid conveying that you don’t trust the other side – even if you don’t. The question that we are facing is how can you get negotiations with a new partner off to a trusting start? We want to know how to get around a relationship that has deteriorated into hostility and petty behavior? It turns out that there are four different things that you can do.

Find Ways To Make Maximum Use Of Your Network

If we want to make a negotiation feel safe and trusting, the best way is to choose new negotiating counterparts wisely. Let’s face it, you may not always be able to choose whom you negotiate with. However, when you can, seek out referrals and recommendations from those you already trust. Not only are you likely to get some promising leads from those in your network, but when the other side knows that a friend or colleague recommended her, they will probably treat you better and trust you more than they would if you didn’t share a common bond.

You need to be careful not to put all your faith in someone just because they have a friend’s seal of approval. Realize that dealing exclusively within your network could cause you to miss out on promising new negotiating opportunities. When it does make sense to reach out to strangers, always be sure to check their references carefully. You also need to verify their claims with independent sources.

Work To Build Rapport Before Negotiating

Negotiators tend to respond to others’ actions with similar actions, research in the social sciences has found. If other negotiators cooperate with us and treat us with respect, we tend to respond them in kind. If during a negotiation they seem guarded and competitive, we are likely to behave that way ourselves. What’s more, such exchanges can spiral into vicious cycles or virtuous cycles. A virtuous cycle is one in which cooperation and goodwill prevail.

The reciprocal nature of trust reinforces the value of you taking the time to get to know the other party and build rapport before you begin to negotiate. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you can form a bond simply by exchanging a few friendly e-mails before meeting in person. A much better plan is to try to forge a personal connection by meeting for an informal lunch or two. Understand that even just a few minutes of small talk can go a long way.

Take The Time To Set An Appropriate Trust Default

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you’ve vetted your negotiating partner and spent time getting to know each other that you can trust them implicitly. We negotiators often make the mistake of assuming that we have a fully trusting relationship with the other party. When things go wrong during a negotiation, we are left feeling hurt, shocked, and perhaps lighter in the wallet. We need to keep in mind that negotiators can feel trust has been broken even when neither side has behaved with deliberate deception.

When we encounter conflicts of interest, our common tendency to overclaim credit for one’s contributions, and other widespread cognitive biases can lead us to view the same events differently and jump to the false conclusion that trust has been irreparably broken. During a negotiation one way to reduce the odds of trust betrayal is to change the “trust default” that negotiators hold when talks begin. As substantive negotiation talks begin, take time to discuss ground rules, including your basic beliefs about trust. Take the time to explain that you are a conservative risk taker who would like to build your trust slowly, over time.

Find Ways To Win Their Trust

When it comes to establishing a trusting relationship with another negotiator, gaining their trust is just as important as calibrating how much to trust them. You need to begin by preparing thoroughly for the negotiation by researching the other party’s culture, history, and interests. This can be very important when you’re negotiating with those from other industries or countries. Take time to learn the other side’s vocabulary. When you do this you’ll inspire the other side’s trust and appreciation. Another way to win trust in negotiation is to clearly label your most important concessions. Remember that most of us have a natural tendency to discount the value of the other side’s concessions. To make matters worse, during a negotiation negotiators often lay concessions on the table without explaining how much these “gifts” cost them.

What happens is that concessions go unappreciated and unreciprocated, leading to resentment, distrust, and rivalry. Whenever you make a noteworthy concession, make sure that you tell the other party how much you are sacrificing and what this sacrifice means to you.

What All Of This Means For You

In order for any principled negotiation to be successful, we have to trust the other side. Likewise, they have to trust us. When we enter into a negotiation, trust may not exist. What this means for us as negotiators is that we need to search for ways to build trust with the other side. The good news is that this can be done, we just have to understand how to go about doing it.

Negotiators need to understand that a successful negotiation is all about building trust. When we start a negotiation without any trust, it is going to be up to us to find ways to create it. In order to build trust, we need to find ways to make maximum use of our network. When the other side realizes that other people trust us, they will be more willing to trust us. When the negotiation starts, it may be too late to go about building trust. What we need to do is to work to build rapport before negotiating begins. Finally, in order to build trust in your next negotiation, you need to take the time to set an appropriate trust default.

We will never be able to reach an agreement with the other side if both sides don’t trust each other. What we need to do is to spend the time that is required to build trust with the other side. This will start before the negotiations begins. If we carefully work to build trust with the other side, then we will improve our chances of being able to successfully reach a deal with them.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: How do you think that you can measure the amount of trust that there is in a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’d like to be able to tell you that your next negotiation will go smoothly. You’ll sit down at the negotiating table and the other side will be ready to deal with you. You’ll have some informed discussions, a deal will be reached, and both sides will shake on it. However, all too often this is not the way that things turn out. Instead, during the negotiation no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques we use, we can run into an impasse – both sides want different things. When you encounter this situation, you are going to have to be aware of what your BATNA is so that you can determine what your next step needs to be.