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 Jeswald Salacuseon / Negotiation Training

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 yur 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.

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 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 e-mails 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 longterm 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: Top Ten Business Deals of 2013 – 2013 witnessed a series of mergers, acquisitions, and other deals. Here are 10 negotiations and negotiation trends from which business dealmakers can learn.

See Also: Dealmaking – 5 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

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 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.