#65 Lack Of Trust: A Threat To Collaborative Negotiation And How To Get Past It

This is the second in a series of blogs exploring factors that can threaten collaborative negotiation. The previous blog examined tricks and power grabs; this one looks at lack of trust.

In Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury suggest that one can proceed in negotiation independent of trust. Counter-intuitively, they are saying that when either party has little trust in the other, they can still reach a useful agreement. How?

One effect of you not trusting the other party is that you will have concerns about his or her behaviour. Ask yourself what those specific concerns are. Once you clarify them, find ways to negotiate over them. Two examples follow:

1. You can’t trust the other party to perform her obligations under the agreement.

Ask yourself, what is it that you are concerned she won’t do? For example, you might be concerned that she will not pay in a timely manner for goods that you have shipped. To address this, you can set up a trust account. She puts the payment in the account, and the funds are released to you when you supply documentation that the goods were received at the shipping address.

Lack of Trust: A Threat to Collaborative Negotiation and How to Get Past It


2. You don’t trust the accuracy of what the other party is saying. He seems to be exaggerating.

A certain amount of exaggeration could be viewed as a normal effort to influence the other negotiator. When there are blatant misrepresentations of fact, however, most people will consider this to be a breakdown of trust and weak grounds on which to form an agreement. Fortunately though, when negotiators exaggerate significantly and you don’t trust what they are saying, they leave themselves open to you suggesting a provision in the agreement that addresses their exaggeration:

‘Since you are so adamant that your company will maintain its current profitability after we purchase it, you should not mind committing to pay us any negative difference between this year’s profit and annual profits for the next three years.’

‘Since you are so certain that my director will approve of your writing, you should not mind agreeing to revise any parts of the report she would like improved.’

The other party may agree to your suggested term in order to save face, or he may revise the glowing discourse about what he is offering. In this latter case, it may be wise to help him save face, then build appropriate provisions together. You might say:

‘I thought my request would help you to see the value of the company from where we stand. Any price we pay has to consider the risks involved. We don’t think that what you have been asking for adequately accounts for risk.’

‘I’m sure you’re a brilliant writer, but you don’t know my director. Let’s talk about how we will respond to her requests for improvements.’

Lack of trust makes it difficult to form or rely on agreement, but not impossible. When you don’t trust, identify your specific behavioural concerns and try to negotiate provisions that address them. In this manner you can move beyond trust and negotiate independently of it.

Another way to think of it is to consider that trust can’t be reliably assessed or determined during a negotiation and so one has to find a way past it. Assessing what the other party could do or not do is a foothold for addressing trust concerns indirectly without having to resolve lack of trust.

Several other blogs on the topic of trust have appeared on this site. The most recent is #57 Building Trust in the Absence of Integrity.

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