3 Ways to Build Trust in a Negotiation

Negotiators have a well-earned reputation for being less than transparent with each other – and some outright lie… Here are 3 ways a negotiator can build trust without losing leverage.

  1. Establish ground rules (that you’re willing to live by… trust is a 2-way street, no one wants to be known as a hypocrite): We teach that until everything is agreed to, nothing is agreed to. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be direct (politely) and make that clear up front. Who will be the lead negotiators for each side? Who else will be on the teams? Are the lead negotiators empowered to “approve” the deal? (Hint: never take a “No” from someone not empowered to say “Yes.”)
  2. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!: Obviously you can’t show the other side your complete plan, including Bottom Lines, but you can show a little skin. I was in 1 high-stakes negotiations that the Board of Directors had dictated to the CEO “Get it done.” One thing led to another and we had 2 weeks to get to “Yes,” with no good alternatives. I called the supplier and told them I wanted to see if we can get to “Yes” or if we were wasting each other’s time (bad news early is good news). When they arrived, I had a private office prepared for their team and asked them if they wanted to “try a new technique?” They said “Yes,” then realized they didn’t know what they just agreed to. I calmed their fears and suggested each of us go into our office with our teams and take 30 minutes to come up with our top 3 priority Terms & Conditions (not the Bracket) for each, just the 3 most critical T&Cs) – then we’d reconvene and change papers. At which point we’d have some idea if we were aligned and could get to “Yes,” or were doomed to failure… When we changed papers, we realized there were no direct conflicts (seller wanting a high price, buyer wanting a low price) and we actually built trust without risk! Which helped us agree to the less important priorities in record time. Note: if you’re on the sales side, there’s no rule that says the customer dictates how the negotiation will play out – you can suggest this technique to your customer.
  3. Don’t (for the long term / next opportunity to negotiate): Never EVER take information from the other side and hurt them with it. Resist the urge to take a Win-Lose. It’s a small world and people will find out. Enough said.