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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Crafting Win-Win Deals: A Trust-Centric Guide to Successful Negotiations

There are two types of negotiations: win-win and zero-sum-game (or win-lose). You don’t need trust for the latter, but for win-win negotiations, you do. Trust plays a major role in reaching the best outcome for both sides of the negotiations. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to conduct win-win negotiations with trust.

1. Win-Win or Zero-Sum Game?

The first step is to determine whether you are entering win-win (both sides must win) or win-lose (zero-sum-game, where for one side to win, the other must lose) negotiations. If the deal is part of a long-term relationship, you probably don’t want the other side to lose, as it is not conducive to long-term relationships. When you are negotiating a single, independent transaction (such as buying a car), and no long-term relationship is expected, you may opt for a win-lose negotiation (you get as much car as possible and pay as little as possible, and both come at the expense of the seller). However, you may decide to pursue win-win negotiations even for a one-time transaction. That’s your choice. It is essential, though, that there will be an alignment of interest in win-win negotiations. You can’t be the only side pursuing a win-win approach (while the other is pursuing a win-lose approach). The personality compatibility and symmetry components of the relative trust model drive this.

2. Don’t Focus on the Means; Focus on Intentions and Motivation

Often, negotiations are reduced to the means, tools, or specific terms to achieve a higher-level goal. Both sides have their motivations to enter the negotiations. Both of you must find out what those motivations are for several reasons. Once you each know the other side’s motivation, there might be a better solution than the one you are negotiating when you focus only on the specific terms. The other is that understanding the other side’s motivation will help both of you see if there is even a bargaining zone (see next paragraph). The motivations might be rooted in values, emotions, and ego. Allowing emotions to enter the negotiations is seldom a good thing. Try to keep emotions and ego out of it.

3. Does a Bargaining Zone Exist?

A bargaining zone is a zone where both sides would get enough of what they want. The phrase “walkaway point” often describes the absolute maximum that each side in the negotiations is unwilling to cross. And often, that line is only “for show” and not the real walkaway line. If you are buying a car and willing to pay as much as $9,000, while the seller is willing to accept as little as $8,000, there is a bargaining zone between those numbers. If, on the other hand, you are not willing to pay anything above $8,000 while the seller is not willing to accept less than $9,000, a bargaining zone does not exist. Once you and the other side “got in touch with your motivations,” is there a bargaining zone allowing each of you to accept an outcome you can live with? That’s another important reason for finding the real motivations for the deal. Finding out early enough that there is no bargaining zone between your motivations should be a reason to walk away and stop negotiating. Otherwise, you will spend time wordsmithing terms that would never allow both sides to fulfill their motivation for the deal.

4. Positivity in Negotiations

The level of trust during the negotiations is determined by the positivity of the behaviors of both sides and accelerated by time and intimacy (more on those in the next paragraph). The positivity is determined by two things: No-BS and empathy. A side to negotiations is more alert to BS from the other side than in casual interaction. The fact that you say what you mean would typically cause your body language and the words you use to be consistent, and thus, they will trust you more. No-BS also includes addressing the real issues (not leaving them out of the negotiations) and being vulnerable (a requirement to show your real motivation). At the same time, each side must exercise empathy for the other side. That starts with acknowledging that there are two sides to every negotiation, that they may have different perspectives on the same things, and that their side is important to them. It would allow you to make concessions because you understand what’s important to them. Sometimes, the other side may be willing to make a significant concession on something very important to you (but not very important to them) in return for a concession you will make on something that is not very important to you (but very important to them). You can only do that if you empathize, listen to them, and try understanding their perspective and motivation. Ensuring the outcome maximizes the benefit to the other side is fundamental to win-win negotiations.

5. Time and Intimacy

There is a chicken-and-egg problem here. The level of trust before the negotiations start will determine the outcome. At the same time, the outcome will determine the level of trust. One component that builds trust is time. The more time you spend with the other side of the negotiations, the more you accelerate how positivity (yours and theirs) translates into trust. The advice here is not to accelerate the negotiations. Give it time. Granted, this might not be feasible in all types of negotiations, but where it is, get to know the other side and let them get to know you. It will help build trust and reach the best win-win outcome. The other component that accelerates building trust is intimacy. Negotiating through email will slow building trust. It leaves a lot to be interpreted and assumptions made. When the negotiations are in person and face-to-face, each side can observe the consistency between the other side’s words and non-verbal communication. As long as those are consistent, it will accelerate trust.

6. Start with Trust

Finally, my research shows that we are split between zero trust (waiting for the other person to earn our trust) and total trust (until the other side betrays that trust.) If you start negotiations with zero trust, you will likely never reach a true win-win outcome. You will always suspect the motivation of the other side. I’m not advocating for starting with blind, complete trust. Only a little, letting the interaction fuel the building of trust. For example, I found that when trust is high, people are 240% more willing to be vulnerable with one another. As stated earlier, vulnerability is important for sharing each other’s fundamental motivation for the negotiations, which is important to reach a win-win outcome. Start with trust.


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Dr. Yoram Solomon

Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to magazine.


The Book of Trust®, The Innovation Culture Institute®, and Trust Habits® are registered trademarks of Yoram Solomon. Trust Premium™ and The Trust Show™ are trademarks of Yoram Solomon.

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