Building Trust in a Negotiation

Cite this article as:"Building Trust in a Negotiation," in The Business Professor, updated October 22, 2017, last accessed August 8, 2020,

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What are rational and deliberate mechanisms for building trust in a negotiation?

Two primary approaches exist for establishing trust in a negotiation:

• Cognitive route – Building trust based on rational and deliberate thoughts and considerations. In summary, this approach depends on logic. A negotiator relates the objectives or interests of the other party to an organized approach to maximizing that value given the context of the negotiation.

• Affective route – Building trust based on highly subjective, emotional factors.

Numerous psychological tendencies influence the creation of trust through either of the aforementioned approaches. Three notable examples include:

• Similarity-attraction effect – The tendency for people who are similar to each other to like and be attracted to one another. This can create an emotional bond that affects the negotiation. Further, an individual may recognize a tendency toward association with like individuals. In such a case, this may lead to a conscience and calculated preference for negotiating or reaching agreement with similar individuals.

• Exposure – Simply being in contact with individuals in a manner that has an impact upon them. For example, propinquity effect is the strong tendency for people to like, and become friends with, people that are physically and/or geographically closer to them. Likewise, functional distance is the effort involved in crossing a physical distance and how it corresponds to communication (e.g., two offices separated by 10 feet of space are easier to make contact between than are two offices separated by a one-foot-thick, solid brick wall). These tendencies may affect how we observe and process information from the other party. It can also heighten or reduce the effect of negotiation on the negotiator.

• Reciprocity – A situation in which we feel obligated to return in kind what others have offered or given to us.

Below are some common tactics that fit within the aforementioned approaches for building trust in a negotiation:

• Transformation – Transform personal conflict into task conflict: Personal conflict (or emotional conflict) is personal, defensive, and resentful; rooted in anger, personality clashes, ego, tension. Task conflict or cognitive conflict is largely depersonalized, can often stimulate creativity. It consists of argumentation about the merits of ideas, plans, and projects.

• Commonality – Numerous tactics seek to leverage the psychological tendency toward commonality. Negotiators may be more likely to reach agreement if they can develop a common goal or shared vision for the resolution of the conflict or dispute. Mimicry or mirroring is when one negotiator seeks to emulate the actions, beliefs, or understanding of the other party. Another approach is to find a shared problem or a shared enemy. Similarly, schmoozing/flattery seeks to leverage the internal desire to be understood and accepted. The result is a level of actual or perceived commonality that can influence the negotiation. Lastly, self-disclosure is a tactics that seeks to make one’s position understood. Opening up in this manner demonstrates a level of vulnerability that can create an emotional reaction.

• Networking – Third parties can have a strong effect on our perception of events or situations. When seeking to establish or strengthen the trust in a relationship, seek to capitalize on the network connections common to the negotiators. A social network can reaffirm or influence individual beliefs, including confidence and trust.

• Plan for Future – Plan the negotiation to focus on the future (continued relationship or transactions) between the parties.

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