The Importance of a Relationship in Negotiation

To build a long-term relationship in negotiation, work collaboratively and build agreements that benefit both sides.

By — on / Negotiation Training

Relationship in Negotiation

At the negotiation table, what’s the best way to uncover your negotiation counterpart’s hidden interests? Build a relationship in negotiation by asking questions, then listening carefully. Even if you have decided to make the first offer and are ready with a number of alternatives, you should always open by asking and listening to assess your counterpart’s interests. Note that if your style of listening isn’t sufficiently empathetic, it won’t elicit honest responses.

A relationship in negotiation is a perceived connection that can be psychological, economic, political, or personal; whatever its basis, wise leaders, like skilled negotiators, work to foster a strong connection because effective leadership truly depends on it.

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Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Positive negotiation relationships are important not because they engender warm, fuzzy feelings, but because they engender trust – a vital means of securing desired actions from others.

Consider that any proposed action, whether suggested by a negotiator at the bargaining table or a leader at a strategy meeting, entails some risk.

People will view a course of action as less risky, and therefore more acceptable when it is suggested by someone that they trust.

In order to create a durable relationship in negotiation, there are four basic building blocks that can help you create effective partnerships with the people you lead:

  1. Two-way communication
  2. A strong commitment from the leader to the interests of those he leads
  3. Reliability
  4. Respect for the contributions followers make to the organization

How to Build Trust Within a Relationship in Negotiation

People tend to respond to others’ actions with similar actions, as research in the social sciences has found. If others cooperate with us and treat us with respect, we tend to respond in kind.

If they seem guarded and competitive, we are likely to behave that way ourselves. What’s more, is that such exchanges can spiral into vicious cycles (those characterized by contention and suspicion) or virtuous cycles (those in which cooperation and goodwill prevail), according to skilled negotiation expert Keith Allred.

The reciprocal nature of trust reinforces the value of taking time to get to know the other party and build rapport before you begin to negotiate. Don’t assume that you can form a bond simply by exchanging a few friendly emails before meeting in person. Rather, try to forge a personal connection by meeting for an informal lunch or two.

Even just a few minutes of small talk can go a long way.

In her research, Northwestern University School of Law professor Janice Nadler found that negotiators who spent even just five minutes chatting on the phone—without discussing issues related to the upcoming negotiation—felt more cooperative toward their counterparts, shared more information, made fewer threats, and developed more trust in a subsequent e-mail negotiation than did pairs of negotiators who skipped the telephone small talk.

It seems that “schmoozing” and other forms of rapport building not only build trust but can also have a significant economic payoff.

How have you built trust within a relationship in negotiation? Share your story in the comments.

See Also: How to Deal When the Going Gets Tough – Most business negotiators understand that by working collaboratively with their counterparts while also advocating strongly on their own behalf, they can build agreements and long term relationships that benefit both sides. During times of economic hardship, however, many negotiators abandon their commitment to cooperation and mutual gains. Instead, they fall back on competitive tactics, threatening the other side with “take it or leave it” offers and refusing to accept concessions of any kind.)

See Also: Beware Your Counterpart’s Biases – After a failed negotiation, it’s tempting to construct a story about how the other side’s irrationality led to an impasse. Unfortunately, such stories will not resurrect the deal. In the past, we have encouraged you to ‘debias’ your own behavior by identifying the assumptions that may be clouding your judgment. We have introduced you to a number of judgment biases – common, systematic errors in thinking that are likely to affect your decisions and harm your outcomes in negotiation. These include the mythical fixed-pie, egocentrism, overconfidence, escalation of commitment, the winner’s curse, the influence of vivid data, and so on.

See Also: 15 Top Business Negotiations – Business negotiations tend to have lots of ups and downs—and we can learn from all of them. Here’s a roundup of 15 business negotiations from recent years that offer useful lessons.

See Also: 5 Dealmaking Tips for Closing the Deal – What to do when you’ve done everything right, but you still don’t have an agreement. Here are some tips from Negotiation Briefings to help you close the deal in your next negotiating session at the bargaining table.

Related Negotiation Training Article: Win-Win Negotiation: Managing Your Counterpart’s Satisfaction

Negotiation Skills

Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Adapted from “Real Leaders Negotiate” by Jeswald Salacuse for the May 2006 Negotiation newsletter and “How to Build Trust at the Bargaining Table,” first published in the January 2009 issue of Negotiation.

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8 Responses to “The Importance of a Relationship in Negotiation”

  • Nilam ..

    I agree with the points that Jeswald Salacuse is providing. But professional and personal negotiation takes place when you already have a good relationship with your counterparts. How can you say “no” in this kind of relationship without breaking your bond with your counterparts?

  • Xu D.

    I very much agree with the point of view of the article. As a project transfer department, we need to maintain a good customer relationship, improve customer satisfaction, mutual benefit, and common development with customers.

  • Pon U.

    Yes, building relationship is important for business, politics, security et al. The Chinese call it “Guang-Xi” (Relationship built over time). Of course there are connotations that it is used for corrupt practices. Yes, there are instances where buying influence become a problem. It is not only for the Chinese and other Asians but also Americans, Europeans, Arabs etc. Nevertheless, for negotiation building relationship is important, but care must be taken not to go over-board. I have been involved in several negotiations and also consultancy, and I found building relationship is a way to success – Trust is important BUT take care during the process …. time and actions will tell. Adrian Villanueva (Singapore).

  • Kanchan M.

    I find the information on this website and this article in particular quite exciting, but need to ask more about the group that posts this content. I am struck by how few women are on this panel of experts which investigates and promotes negotiation. To me, women seem more social and reciprocate more readily than men. But at least women are AS GOOD AS men in negotiating. I base my opinion of the negotiation skills of people in general from 21 years as a physician and 17 of those as a psychiatrist. Sociologically, men were originally hunters, women were gatherers. Men valued trust and silence, in order to hunt effectively. Women entrusted each other with the care of their infants. Two hunting buddys have a different level of trust than a mother with a young child.has with the caretaker of her child. Women have traditionally been the go between for their children, with each other, as well as between father and children, and other family disputes. Men have more testosterone than women, and are more easily a rounded to violence as well. I’m not criticizing this group, rather I would like to open this concept of gender equality to this group of negotiators, so they can negotiate a more balanced panel of experts.

  • richardmlldk r.

    Find out what you need to improve in yourself to become more EFFECTIVE!

  • Greg W.

    I agree with the content of the article. The challenge for the parties is deciding the structure of and participants to the negotiation process. My view is there needs to be a desire for an ongoing relationship, appropriate negotiation dynamic and sufficient flexibility for parties to maneuver once an agreement in principle is agreed. I think it is important the psychological process ensures people feel they have some input into the process and not feel entrapped by the outcome. This can be largely overcome by good structure eg executives supporting negotiation process, the negotiation process involving good dynamic eg small equal number of participants from each party, allowing people with most knowledge to negotiate eg people empowered at the lowest level, to prepare solution without third party intervention. Don’t let the feel good cooperation stifle robust discussions.

  • Good article.

    I’m a retired police sergeant now helping communities redefine their relationships with police. I’ve seen many examples of your points within community-police relationships.

    Effective, long-term, problem solving relationships between police and communities require the building blocks you recommend.

  • Diamond R.

    I agree with you Jeswald! The four points you stated at the end are worth liking and true for maintaining are good relationship.


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