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Developing Trust in Negotiations

I often talk and hear about trust in negotiation as a key element to ensuring you achieve the outcome you desire. In a past episode of Negotiations Ninja podcast, I spoke with Keld Jensen, internationally recognized expert and advisor on negotiation and behavioral economics, about the importance of trust in negotiation.

I believe we take trust for granted in negotiation. Business often comes down to numbers. Trust is a belief, an emotion. Many feel our actions in business should not involve emotions. Keld believes that trust is crucial in ensuring the outcome of a negotiation.

When there is no trust in a negotiation, your prep-work might involve ensuring your contracts have enough detail, you have security measures in place, and you have a backup plan. In a situation where you have trust walking into the negotiation, you can have less prep-work or your prep-work can include things more valuable to the talks and the outcome. If you have a high level of trust, your transactional costs will go down, and your profit will increase. If you have a low level of trust between parties, your transactional costs will go up, and the profit will go down. Keld calls this “trust value” because we can measure the amount of trust monetarily.

To maintain the trust level throughout the negotiation is to agree on the rules of the game. One might walk into a negotiation expecting to play chess, as Keld says when the person on the other side might be hoping to play poker. These games have different strategies and techniques, and when you don’t know what the other side is playing, it’s hard to know which strategies to employ. Help the other side trust you by laying out your game rules. Don’t give away your plan, but when everyone knows the game that’s being played, everyone can be equal.

Talking about trust will also help to build your trust levels. “Part of the rules of the game is actually verbalizing trust,” says Keld. By talking about trust, you are putting it out on the table. It’s not impossible, but when someone tells you to your face that they trust you, it makes it harder to turn around and stab them in the back.

An excellent way to develop trust in a small amount of time is to offer or trade information. Don’t be naïve in expecting the other person won’t use that information against you. Be careful in what you give, and maybe take it slow, but help start the process of sharing information by offering what you can first. Giving up something will help the other person see that you trust them.

Don’t take the importance of trust for granted. If you have a trusted relationship built already, consider maintaining it. If you are walking into a situation where no trust has been established, work on creating it from your first interaction.

For more on trust in negotiations from Keld Jensen, subscribe to Negotiations Ninja podcast, and find us on LinkedIn.