Hot Tips on How to Build Trust in Negotiations

Trust is a cornerstone of effective negotiations. From trusting yourself (and your intuition), to building trust with the other party or parties, the bottom line is that trust gets better long-term outcomes, relationships, and buy-in. Yet we typically don’t include intentional trust-building as an element of our preparation work for negotiations. That failure adversely impacts your ability to influence and persuade – in other words your effectiveness as a negotiator.

For a long time, experts couldn’t agree on how to define trust let alone how to actively build it. There were widely divergent opinions, across multiple disciplines, on the causes of trust, its nature, and its impact. Everyone seemed to agree it was important, but nobody could agree on why or how.

A 1995 journal article, An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust, spoke to the issue and is often cited for its breakdown of the factors of ‘trustworthiness’.

They suggested that we decide whether we find someone to be trustworthy based on our assessment of the following three factors:

  • Ability: Do I believe the person has the ability to deliver on their promises?
  • Benevolence: Is the person inclined or motivated to do right by me?
  • Integrity: Does the person share values and principles that are acceptable to me?

Over a decade later, drawing on the ABI model, Stephen Covey spoke to the question of trust, breaking it down to two component parts: (i) character and (ii) competence. Character reflected integrity and intent. Competence drew on capabilities and results.

Would you pass the ‘trust’ test based on these qualities? It’s worth asking ourselves this question periodically … and in advance of every negotiation.

In our fast-paced world decisions get made quickly. These speed-date decisions are often based on knee-jerk check-ins about whether we trust the other party or not. Those reflex reactions are typically based on past experiences, reputation, cues (verbal and non-verbal), etc.

What are some hot, practical, tips on how to build trust in your negotiations?

  • Trust Yourself

Our first and most important negotiation is always negotiating our own mindset.

It’s difficult to build trust with others if you don’t trust yourself. Do the inner work necessary to bring the confidence that comes from self-love to the table. You need to respect yourself to attract the respect of others. Explore the limiting beliefs that have held you back, challenge your inner critic, seek internal validation (versus external), be honest with yourself and celebrate your value. 

  • Maintain your reputation.  

Losing trust is easier than building it. If you’ve lost someone’s trust, it can take considerable investment to regain it. Managing your reputation is key. Being known as someone who is untrustworthy can be the kiss of death in negotiations. So always guard your reputation.

  •  Give Respect

Respect and trust are closely connected. Respect breeds respect. Always treat people with dignity and respect if you expect the same. Doing so builds trust.

  • Bring Empathy to the Table

Be sure to practice active listening. Seek to truly understand the position and needs of the other party. This serves to lower defenses and increase the trust factor.

  • Speak Clearly

By that, I don’t mean avoid mumbling. I’m talking about being clear about your meaning – say what you mean and mean what you say. Be transparent and open where possible.

Tied to that, speak the ‘language’ of the other party. I’m not talking about learning the mother tongue of the other party, but rather, use the lingo and terminology that speaks to them.

As an attorney, I quickly learned to brush up on the technical or specialized lingo of my clients in order to build the requisite trust that I was able to properly represent their interests. It made clients in the trucking industry nervous if their counsel didn’t know the difference between a truck tractor and a flatbed. 

  • Make & Label Your Concessions

Be prepared to make concessions as a steppingstone to trust-building. I’m not suggesting you give the house away or randomly offering up items in dispute. Be intentional. Plan a concession strategy in advance where possible so you can offer up a concession that will be of value to the other side but is an easy give for you.

Be sure to name your concessions as you do so. Don’t just expect the other party to recognize the concession you’ve made or its value.

  • Be Clear About Your Expectations and Explain Them

When identifying your ‘needs’ in a negotiation (which comes after listening to theirs as noted above), don’t be vague or ambiguous or clever. Be clear. And be prepared to explain your needs. It’s surprising how often we misperceive and attribute false motivations to the other party. You can avoid that problem by offering up your explanations in advance to assist in their understanding of your perspective. Communication builds trust.

  • Seek to Find Mutual Gains

Approach negotiations with a view to finding the highest good for all wherever possible. Don’t just seek to have your needs met, but actively look for creative options to find mutually better solutions and outcomes.

Trust is one of the core elements of my A.R.E. F.I.T. model. Once we master trusting ourselves, trust involves a willingness to rely on someone else. There’s a vulnerability inherent in the giving of it. Our past hurts often make this challenging. Exploring how to give trust allows us to live into being more trustworthy. It takes intentional practice … and it’s worth it.



Build trust, effective negotiations, Trustworthiness

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