The Importance Of Trust In Any Negotiated Deal

Trust is the cornerstone of any negotiated deal
Trust is the cornerstone of any negotiated deal
Image Credit: Terry Johnston

When we enter into a negotiation, we need to understand what will be required in order to reach a deal with the other side. There are many different things that will go into a deal; however, one of the most important is trust. What this means for us as negotiators is that we need to understand what trust really is and how we can go about developing it during a negotiation. It will only be by doing this that we can boost our chances of being able to reach a deal with the other side.

Negotiations Are All About 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 we are negotiating. During a negotiation we will find ourselves dealing with issues related to trust. When we enter into a negotiation, most of us hope that we will share information, build a relationship, and be treated fairly by the other side. But once talks get started, I’m pretty sure that most of us have also had the experience of holding back information, viewing the other side’s behavior with suspicion, and feeling distrusted by them. Clearly there was a lack of trust.


You might even find yourself making concessions simply to avoid conveying that you don’t trust the other side. You may do this even if you don’t trust them. The question that we need to find an answer to is how can we get negotiations with a new partner off to a trusting start? Alternatively, how can we turn around a relationship that has deteriorated into hostility and petty behavior?


Find Ways To Make Maximum Use Of Your Network

The most obvious way to make a negotiation feel safe and trusting is to choose who will be on the other side wisely. I realize that you may not always be able to choose whom you negotiate with, but when you can, you need to seek out referrals and recommendations from those you already trust. Not only will you get promising leads from those in your network, but when the other side knows that a friend or colleague recommended them, they will probably treat you better and trust you more than they would if you didn’t share a common bond.

Always Attempt To Build Rapport Before Negotiating

One of the things that all negotiators know is that people tend to respond to others’ actions with similar actions. This is a fact that research in the social sciences has found. If others cooperate with us and treat us with respect, we tend to respond to them in kind. If they seem guarded and competitive towards us, we are likely to behave that way ourselves. What’s more, it we’re not careful such exchanges can spiral into vicious cycles (bad) or virtuous cycles (good). The reciprocal nature of trust reinforces the value of taking some time to get to know the other side and build rapport before you begin a negotiation. Don’t assume that you can form a bond simply by exchanging a few friendly e-mails before meeting with them in person. Instead, you need to try to forge a personal connection by meeting for an informal lunch or two before the negotiations start.

Your Need To Set An Appropriate Trust Default

I think that we can all agree that it would be a mistake to assume that even if you’ve vetted the other side and spent time getting to know each other that you can trust them implicitly. Negotiators often make the mistake of assuming that they have a fully trusting relationship with the other party. Later, when things go sideways, they are unfortunately left feeling shocked, hurt, and perhaps just a lighter in the wallet. We need to keep in mind that negotiators can feel trust has been broken even in situations where neither side has behaved with deliberate deception. One way to reduce the odds of trust betrayal is to make an effort to change the “trust default” that negotiators hold when talks begin. As the real talks begin, take time to discuss the ground rules. Make sure that you include basic beliefs about trust. You need to explain to the other side that you are a conservative risk taker who would like to build trust slowly, over time.

Find Ways To Win Their Trust

Negotiators need to understand that 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 side’s history, culture, and interests. This can be especially important when you find that you are negotiating with those from other industries or countries. Another way to win trust in negotiation is to make sure that you clearly label your most important concessions. During a negotiation most of us have a natural tendency to discount the value of the other side’s concessions. To make matters even worse, negotiators often lay concessions on the table without explaining how much these so-called “gifts” cost them. What is the result of doing this? Concessions can go unappreciated and unreciprocated, leading to resentment, distrust, and rivalry. To solve this problem, whenever you make a noteworthy concession, tell the other side how much you are sacrificing and what this sacrifice means to you.

Make Sure That You Build Trust By Both Listening and Acknowledging

The good news for us is that the more fairly negotiators feel they’ve been treated, the more likely they are to trust and cooperate with each other. It turns out that our perceptions of the fairness of a negotiation process can have a stronger impact on our overall satisfaction than our objective outcomes. To make sure the other side feels fairly treated throughout the negotiation process and reciprocates with trust, you need to be modest about your own gains at the table and express admiration for their quick thinking and achievements. Make sure that you give the other side ample time to express their point of view, including any frustration or hard feelings they may have. When you listen closely to someone and make an effort to understand their perspective, not only will you educate yourself, but you will likely encourage them to feel more trusting of you and more positive about negotiating in general.

What All Of This Means For You

If we want to be successful in our next negotiation, we are going to have to find a way to get the other side to go along with our proposals. It turns out that more often than not, this can be a very difficult thing to do. The reason that we run into problems making it happen is that all too often there is very little trust in our negotiations. We don’t trust the other side and they don’t trust us. In order to boost our chances of being successful in our next negotiation, we’re going to have to find ways to get the other side to trust us.

We can start things off by making sure that people that we know can recommend the person that we’ll be negotiating with. In order to help you connect with the other side, it can help to build rapport with them before the negotiations start. You will need to set an appropriate trust default for this negotiation. It will be on you to take steps to win the other side’s trust. This can be done by taking the time to both listen and acknowledge what the other side says.

Trust in a negotiation is something that can be built. However, as negotiators we need to understand that if we don’t make an effort, our next negotiation may not have a lot of trust in it. If we take the right steps and make an effort to get the other side to trust us, then we will have hopefully set ourselves up for a successful negotiation.


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


Question For You: If you feel that the other side has stopped trusting you during a negotiation, what can you do to get their trust back?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Hopefully we all know what a BATNA is – it’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). This is what we can use to break down barriers at the bargaining table. Going into your next negotiation we all know that you have to do some homework and make sure that you know what you would do if the negotiations didn’t work out and you had to walk away. However, once you know what your BATNA is, do you really know how to use it during a negotiation?