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Volume IV, Number 10 • November, 2011 • Archives of Past Issues
An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association
Written by Linda B. Bulmash

This Month's Topic:

Building Trust at the Negotiation Table

A foundation for successful negotiations is building mutual trust at the outset of or even before the negotiation. This is often difficult to achieve. There are 5 guidelines for building and maintaining trust at the negotiation table.

1. Make maximum use of networks. We seldom have the ability to choose who we negotiate with but that doesn't mean your network of professionals, colleagues and friends can't help you assess your negotiating partner. With the advent of e-mail and social networking sites, there are many ways to check out your counterpart. The more your know about them, the better your chance of building rapport and the less chance you will fall into traps.

2. Build rapport before negotiating. Research in social science has proven that people respond positively to and more readily trust people that are similar to them and will respond to actions with similar actions. The more you know about your counterpart before you meet them, the more likely you are to find a common bridge that builds trust. And the reciprocal nature of trust underscores the value of building that rapport.

3. Set an appropriate "trust default". The above is not to suggest that if you do these things both sides will implicitly trust each other. You have to calibrate how much to trust someone. One way to reduce the odds of betrayal is to begin the negotiation talks with a frank discussion of the ground rules of the negotiation as well as your basic beliefs about trust. Indicate that you take a cautious approach to building trust and it will develop over time. Ask them to agree with you that you will both act in a trustworthy way. This may seem axiomatic but actually stating this puts the issue squarely at the forefront of the negotiation and makes it more difficult for someone to violate the agreement. Of course that mean you have to do the same.

4. Win their trust. Most of us have to tendency to immediately devalue the other side's concessions (reactive devaluation). Therefore, one way to win their trust is to carefully label each of your most important concessions. After making the concession, let them know the relative "cost" of these concessions to your side. They won't reciprocate with a concession if they don't know that you gave something that you value to them.

5. Build trust by listening and acknowledging. The other side has to feel they are being treated fairly for them to trust and cooperate with you. Their satisfaction with the deal comes more from feeling they are being treated fairly than from the objective value. So be modest about what you are getting and compliment them on their achievements.

*Negotiation, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Vol. 12, Num. 1 / January 2009.

LACBA member Linda B. Bulmash, Esq.,
writes the Negotiation Tips.
You can contact her at:
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