The Power of Building Strong Relationships

By Chuck Doran and Elena Meth

In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie writes: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” It’s a great lesson about the importance of building strong relationships, one that is echoed by the authors of Getting to Yes. Good relationships help us better understand our counterpart’s interests and they increase the likelihood that we continue reaching mutually beneficial agreements in the future as well.

Strong, long-term relationships are not necessary for every negotiation to be successful. You don’t need a deep relationship with the person buying your car, for example. However, if you are an employer who frequently negotiates salary, a lawyer who regularly works with the same insurance company, or an employee who’s been assigned to a long-term team, you can benefit from shifting your focus away from immediate, substantive outcomes to considering what building strong relationships could yield in weeks, months, or even years.

Create a firm base to build your relationship on

Experts in negotiation suggest that beginning a negotiation with a few minutes of small talk, especially if that negotiation is occurring over the phone or via video messenger, is an excellent way to start to build trust. Asking about how someone’s day is going, how their family is, what they did over the weekend, etc… shows you are interested in them as a person, and view them as more than an obstacle you’re trying to overcome. Establishing a cordial rapport also indicates that you respect your counterpart and are genuinely interested in their thoughts and feelings. By establishing clear lines of trust and communication early on, you open up space for the other party to bring up concerns in a productive way. Additionally, ensuring that the other party feels safe to voice their honest opinions also reduces the risk of reaching an impasse.

When establishing a relationship, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I understand the other parties’ perspective? Do they understand mine?
  • What are our shared and differing goals and interests for this negotiation?
  • What do we hope to accomplish beyond this negotiation?

Knowing the answers to these questions will give you indicators about what topics to build on and where to focus your inquiry.

Make building a strong relationship the first step

Sometimes, focusing on creative relationship building should even take priority over pursuing other goals or concerns. For instance, when initially hired on a three-year contract at an institution of higher education, a colleague laid out his ambitious set of substantive goals to the head of his department. As a new hire, he wanted to prove that he had ambition and drive to serve the department well and that he would prove to be an excellent addition to the team. When the department head looked at the list of goals, he advised our colleague to shift his plans for his first year to years two and three and instead to focus on meeting and getting to know fellow faculty and staff during year one. The department head explained that many of our colleague’s goals would require assistance from other faculty to be successful. Instead of struggling to find the right person to supply the right resources as needs arose, the department head knew that setting up these connections early on would benefit everyone in the long run. Looking back on it, our colleague recalls this piece of advice as one of the most important he has ever received.

Focusing on the value of relationships and how you and your counterpart can benefit each other opens the door to win-win solutions, as well as the potential for long-term success which may have been previous unimaginable. The next time you anticipate a negotiation to be part of a longer series or simply want to test out a new negotiation tactic, consider establishing a relationship and helping it develop, as a first step towards securing a good outcome in your negotiation.

To learn more about how to build strong relationships to improve your deals in negotiation, contact Chuck Doran at 617-895-4026 or cdoran@mwi.org.

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