The Negotiator Magazine

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“Three Tips for Building Goodwill During Negotiations”

by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius

It’s no secret that negotiating involves a lot of give and take. This includes the give and take of information. You’re revealing information about your needs and expectations while trying to gather information from the other side.

The way that you give information can help foster goodwill and encourage the other side to reveal information that will help you reach the outcome you want.  Consider adding these three strategies to the many arrows you should have in your quiver before and during negotiations:

Begin with the End

A successful executive we know in the outsourcing industry begins his major negotiations by sitting down with his customer to jointly write the positive press release that the two sides hope will result from the conclusion of a successful negotiation. 

By hashing out the joint deal up front, he learns about key interests of his counterpart, and also shares important interests.  Both focus away from the barriers and on the opportunity, the “pot of gold” that could result from effective cooperation.  At the same time, both sides may be gaining some psychological commitment to making a deal.  When the negotiation hits a tough patch, the executive pulls out the release to re-orient the effort.

Share and Share Alike

When we’re helping people learn how to negotiate better we introduce the concept of the “norm of reciprocity.” This is what makes us want to reciprocate when someone does something that’s helpful to us. It is a powerful psychological force, which you can tap into to gain information.

Share some low-cost information, and encourage the other side to share some information, as well.  If they fail to reciprocate—or if, based on your prior research, they appear to be trying to mislead you—consider having an explicit discussion about what you have been trying to do: that is, to give and get enough information to enable you to jointly design a mutually beneficial deal.  Sharing that information makes each of you vulnerable, but is safer if both of you do it.

If they do reciprocate, provide additional information, and request more. In many negotiations, you can tap the power of the reciprocity norm to build trust over time.  You may perform a personal favor, take your counterpart out for drinks or coffee, provide some helpful information outside of the negotiation, or in some other way do something positive.  All of these moves are designed to build trust.  The trust, in turn, will enable you and your counterpart to share information that will enable you both to create value.

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April 2007