Trust. You have it or you don’t. It’s hard to build and easy to lose…


Being ‘trusted’ is the key to relationship survival. Building relationships is critical for negotiators.

Negative accusations of lack of trustworthiness at both the inter-organizational (impersonal) and inter-personal levels are sometimes used as a negotiation tactic to gain leverage over the other side.

At the inter-personal level, a lead negotiator might reprimand an indiscrete counterpart: ‘I trusted you to keep our discussions off-the-record’.

Is it ?Trust? or ?Mistrust?

What is ‘trust’? It is the confidence of being able to rely on the other party to act as they say they will.

We can identify two aspects of trust: an emotional feeling part that suggests trustworthiness or lack of it, and a performance track record part that confirms trust.

Ask yourself, has there been a real failing in confidence? Or is it a tactical manouevre to exert pressure?

Research suggests that our immediate reactions in negotiation are emotional rather than rational. Accordingly, negotiators need to carefully monitor the impact of using the word ‘trust’. Often the implied sub-text that we ‘mistrust’ the other is heard with the common reaction to this being a fight or flight emotional response. The accused person either attacks you as also being untrustworthy, or becomes defensive about their position. Neither reaction is helpful.

To overcome this, at ENS International we suggest that negotiators refrain from using the word ‘trust’. The aim is to prevent an emotional reaction that fosters a negative negotiation ‘atmosphere’.

Instead, we advise negotiators to focus on the more rational performance track record area.

Focus on Building Predictability

How can we do this?

To overcome mistrust, rather than discussing views on people’s lack of trustworthiness, focus on building predictability. Develop compliance mechanisms that will ensure the other party’s commitment. (Read our tips on managing mistrust).

To build trust, consider these suggestions below.

Tips the Building Trust

  1. Agree the Process: in the pre-negotiation phase agree how the negotiation event is to be run, and stick to this
  2. Create overarching common ground: establish and nurture a common objective
  3. Use their language: notice the nuances and how the other uses words to convey ideas, not just the technical jargon
  4. Mirror their nonverbals: physically signal you are alike
  5. Communicate openly: be transparent, carefully explain the reasons for your demands and actions
  6. Listen carefully: stop talking. Trust is built when you take time to listen and really understand the other, be empathic
  7. Prove reliability: look for opportunities to make and uphold small commitments
  8. Make (low value) unilateral concessions: increase goodwill by ensuring the other understands what and why you are doing so
  9. Manage your reputation: have mutually-trusted third parties vouch for your character
  10. And remember, lying kills trust