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Try Something New for 2012: Trust

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

First and foremost, I want to wish each of you a very healthy, happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year. To obtain that peace and a peaceful resolution to all of your disputes, may I suggest something different and oxymoronic: trust. That is right, “trust”. Why? Because, a lot of disputes (and lawsuits) arise because the parties no longer trust the other: an aura of distrust now exists. Ironically, to resolve the dispute (and lawsuit), the parties, to some degree, must be willing to trust each other, what each says to the other, and what each agrees to do. Without some modicum of trust, the matter will never be settled.

Recently, my colleague Linda Bulmash suggested ways to build up trust during a negotiation so that those negotiations will succeed. In her Negotiation Tips for November 2011 (Vol. IV, No. 10, Los Angeles County Bar Association), Ms. Bulmash pointed out that it is important to start building trust prior to the negotiations, as well as at the outset of the negotiations. As we are beginning a new year, perhaps we should think about new ways ( i.e., using “trust”) to resolve disputes. Ms. Bulmash suggests five guidelines to build and maintain trust.

“1. Make maximum use of networks. We seldom have the ability to choose who we negotiate with but that doesn’t mean your network of professionals, colleagues and friends can’t help you assess your negotiating partner. With the advent of e-mail and social networking sites, there are many ways to check out your counterpart. The more you know about them, the better your chance of building rapport and the less chance you will fall into traps.”

“2. Build rapport before negotiating. Research in social science has proven that people respond positively to and more readily trust people that are similar to them and will respond to actions with similar actions. The more you know about your counterpart before you meet them, the more likely you are to find a common bridge that builds trust. And the reciprocal nature of trust underscores the value of building that rapport.”

“3. Set an appropriate “trust default”. The above is not to suggest that if you do these things both sides will implicitly trust each other. You have to calibrate how much to trust someone. One way to reduce the odds of betrayal is to begin the negotiation talks with a frank discussion of the ground rules of the negotiation as well as your basic beliefs about trust. Indicate that you take a cautious approach to building trust and it will develop over time. Ask them to agree with you that you will both act in a trustworthy way. This may seem axiomatic but actually stating this puts the issue squarely at the forefront of the negotiation and makes it more difficult for someone to violate the agreement. Of course that mean you have to do the same.”

“4. Win their trust. Most of us have to tendency to immediately devalue the other side’s concessions (reactive devaluation). Therefore, one way to win their trust is to carefully label each of your most important concessions. After making the concession, let them know the relative “cost” of these concessions to your side. They won’t reciprocate with a concession if they don’t know that you gave something that you value to them.”

“5. Build trust by listening and acknowledging. The other side has to feel they are being treated fairly for them to trust and cooperate with you. Their satisfaction with the deal comes more from feeling they are being treated fairly than from the objective value. So be modest about what you are getting and compliment them on their achievements.”

The first two suggestions remind me of the Chinese term “guanxi” – the art of building relationships. Doing business in China is all about relationships. One must build a personal relationship so that doing business is personal. As explained by Michelle Dammon Loyalka in her article “The Art of Chinese Relationships” Bloomsberg Businessweek (January 6, 2006):

““You have to spend a lot of time there building relationships. “. . .So that first contract is very expensive to make.” While the standard American approach is to get straight down to business, in China the focus is first on forging a more personal relationship. “It’s a very different style of doing business.” “. . .Probably your first meeting you wouldn’t mention business at all.””

In short – all business is personal. We could learn this valuable tip from the Chinese.

The second suggestion also reminds me of the principle of “Liking” discussed by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D in his book, Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion (1984). In sum, people are easily persuaded by people that they like. If a person likes you, what you say to her will more likely influence her. It is through socializing that this “liking” comes about!

The third suggestion relates to setting realistic expectations about the process of negotiation. By setting the ground rules and defining the playing field, no party will be mislead about the process of or how the negotiations will proceed and thus will not feel misled or betrayed.

The fourth suggestion is based on another principle in Dr. Cialdini’s book: the principle of reciprocity which is that people tend to or feel obliged to return a favor. That is, if one party makes a concession, the other party will feel obliged to return the favor and so make a reciprocal concession. As this reciprocity continues, the parties’ demands and offers get closer and closer together until they both agree on the same thing and settle their differences. Reciprocity can be powerful!

The last suggestion is tried and true and a basic tenet of any negotiation: really and truly listen to what the other party is saying and reframe and acknowledge what the other party is saying so that the other party knows she is being heard and understood. As one of my early trainers explained to me: one can acknowledge another’s position without agreeing with it. This is an important concept that if followed, can build the trust and rapport needed to resolve a dispute.

In sum. . . disputes are all about personal relationships, and trust – losing it and regaining it. In 2012, think about “trust” as your mantra for the coming year.

. . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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