How to Build Trust

Mutual trust is a critical element for collaboration, and helps drive productive, creative, and successful negotiations.

Here are five easy steps for building trust with a counterpart:

1. Leverage Your Network

If people have a common acquaintance, they are more likely to act honorably toward one another. Specifically, if they are accountable in some fashion to that common acquaintance, they are less likely to jeopardize their reputation with that third party by acting dishonorably in a negotiation with you, for example.

So, try to identify a common acquaintance to which your counterpart has accountability (and be sure to let your counterpart know that you also have a relationship with that person).

If you are unable to identify a common acquaintance, try to surface and follow up with references that can attest to your counterpart’s level of integrity. When applicable, let your counterpart know that you are developing a relationship with their references – again, your counterpart likely will want to protect their reputation with those references and, therefore, will want to avoid you reporting any grievances.

You can reciprocate by providing references to your counterpart.

2. Build Rapport before Discussing Business

Try to get to know your counterpart and build rapport with them before turning to business (e.g., negotiating an agreement). Research shows that even five minutes of chatting on the phone made people feel more cooperative toward their counterparts.

We also know from social science research that people tend to respond to others’ actions with similar actions. If you act guarded or competitive, your counterpart likely will act in kind. Accordingly, taking time to build rapport and opening up about yourself should elicit the same in your counterpart.

3. Set Reasonable Expectations About Trust

Avoid assuming that you can fully trust counterparts too soon into the relationship. Instead proceed with caution, and aim to build more and more trust over time. Consider discussing with your counterpart an explicit strategy for building trust in each other over time.

4. Communicate/Advocate Effectively

Good negotiators choose their words carefully.

Use words and non-verbal cues that resonate with your counterpart. For example, using their jargon and trade terms or, when you can, speaking in their native language and adopting their local customs demonstrate to your counterpart that you respect and value them, and consider their needs.

Similarly, be candid. Tell your counterpart about your needs and objectives, as well as what you can and cannot do.

Respect and candor go a long way toward building trust in the relationship.

5. Behave Equitably

We trust people when we feel fairly treated by them, and we don’t trust people when we feel unfairly treated. Focus on your counterpart’s perception of being fairly treated. Even if your proposal seems fair to you on the merits, if your counterpart feels that you are trying to take advantage of them, trust will be lost.

So, take the time to explain why you feel that your ideas and actions are fair.

Even though you will have explained yourself, your counterpart might have a different perspective. Be sure to hear them out, and treat their ideas with respect, even if you disagree with them. After all, we all have a basic need to feel understood and respected by others; when we find people that seem to understand and consider what we have to say, we feel closer to them…and have a higher level of trust.

Accordingly, as a means of forging trust, use active-listening skills whenever you can, both in the very early stages of a relationship, as well as throughout well-established relationships.