Trust is the lifeblood of any negotiation. One way to think of trust is as a wave that starts with you and builds outward. It can grow from inside out or from outside in.
It also has the potential for cumulative and exponential effects. (This paradigm comes from Stephen Covey’s book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything). Most of us trust those who are most like us, and distrust those who are not. We must overcome linguistic, cultural, and gender differences in order to trust those who are not like us.
Trust is an essential element of transformative negotiation. Trust can be freely given until it is broken, or it can be withheld until it is earned. Each of us has our own internal habit on this continuum—and these habits can change with the situation. In each negotiation, it’s important to be aware of your own trust rules and to figure out those of your negotiation partner. Don’t forget to factor in cultural differences; in some Asian cultures, for example, protocols are more important than actions, and saving face is more important than keeping your word.
Think of a person with whom you have a high-trust relationship. What does that relationship look and feel like? You can probably count on your partner cutting you slack the first time you fail to deliver on a promise or have a miscommunication.
Now think of someone you have a low-trust relationship with. What does that relationship look and feel like? If you fail to deliver, will the other person likely be forgiving? When you explain something to this person, how seriously will he or she take you? How accurately will the person hear what you say?
You can make trust more tangible by visualizing an account with credits and debits: the greater the number of positive interactions (credits) between you and your negotiation partner, the greater the degree of trust. Negative interactions result in withdrawals (debits) from the account, which reduces trust.
How do we go about building trust with a negotiating partner? Covey explains that the first wave of trust involves creating and maintaining congruence in your words, deeds and motives. This means being a person of integrity, keeping your promises, and not being dishonest or deceptive. It also requires that you be competent and capable.
In Winners Never Cheat, Huntsman notes that negotiators do not lose trust by “driving hard bargains, negotiating intensely, or fiercely seeking every legitimate advantage. Tough negotiations, however, must be fair and honest.”
Lack of trust is the primary reason negotiations fall apart. Mistrust breeds suspicion, and suspicion closes us down. If we do not trust our negotiation partner, we have little hope of succeeding. The same is true when our partner doesn’t trust us.
Act with integrity and keep your promises, know and honor your partner’s trust quotient and meet his or her expectations, and you will lay a strong foundation for a successful and transformative negotiation.
Excerpt from The Transformative Negotiator: Changing How We Come to Agreement from the Inside Out. By Michèle Huff, J.D. UNHOOKED BOOKS.