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The Value of Personal Rapport in Negotiation

Negotiation is a human matter. And yet as negotiations get more complex, it's easier to lose touch with the human factor, much to the detriment of the deal, and those making it.

In his book, "Skin in the Game”, Nassim Taleb covers the importance of cutting out the middle person and ensuring as much high-quality, direct contact with your counterpart for optimal outcomes.

Though I do find the terminology used in the book a little deterministic, Taleb makes some valuable points for direct, personal contact with stakeholders, as well as ensuring that those involved in the negotiations have clear vested interests in it. That means something to lose if it goes wrong and something to gain personally if it goes right.

Many of the points Taleb makes are relevant to negotiation, but these are the most important takeaways in my eyes:

  • Talk is cheap, especially when you're not affected directly by the repercussions.

  • It's easier to cheat people you don't know, or don't feel personally tied to.

So how can you inspire a sense of personal involvement in your counterpart and make sure they have skin in the game?

Pulling in the same direction

A common, human sense of responsibility helps all counterparts pull together towards the best, most satisfying solution for their interests. This is what good negotiation should look like.

At best, there is no "my problem" and "your problem", but rather "our problem". Unfortunately, this is a mindset that's often hard to attain. Especially in the old-world business climate where "nothing is personal”. Building effective, long-term solutions is incredibly hard unless that common goal is established.

Thankfully in 2022 more and more public discourse is bringing humanistic and holistic values back, front and centre. The common good and collective responsibility are setting the tone in business culture, as we understand that our biggest challenges- climate change, pandemics, and discrimination- are common ones. There is no skill more suitable than negotiation to lead that effort.

So here are 3 negotiation tips to improve personal rapport:

Help your counterpart visualise your reality

Oftentimes when engaging in a joint project or endeavour, we only have very limited knowledge of the considerations and constraints of each side. Sharing your point of view with your counterpart can help them help you, and vice versa. If they can visualise the repercussions of the deal on your reality, it’s easier for them to identify with your needs and justify actions that will serve them.

This doesn’t mean all people feel bad consciously screwing others over, but most people will at least feel uncomfortable about it, and many will feel naturally inclined to do right by you if they can do so without harming themselves.

Engaging your counterpart in your point of view requires sharing information as openly and eloquently as possible. Avoid sharing information that’s too sensitive, but make sure your counterpart has all the details they need to make beneficial decisions in your negotiation.

Remember to allow space for listening actively to your counterpart, encouraging them to share that same information you need to do their point of view the same justice.

Make sure to use high-quality, maximum-impact mediums of communication

These days we have shortcuts for everything- including communication. Text messages instead of phone calls, and video calls instead of face-to-face meetings. This solves many problems but also means the quality of information we transmit to each other is getting poorer and poorer.

In her book “Do Nothing” Celeste Headlee outlines different methods of communication by quality. The first is a live, face-to-face encounter - where we can see the person’s body language, hear their tone of voice and understand the context they are in. The further away we get from this model- be it e-call, voice message, or email- the lower the resolution and quality of information we get.

I’d add to that that it doesn’t count if you’re meeting face-to-face, but are both compulsively staring at your phones throughout the conversation.

Slack messages are fine for some things, but make sure to give more important matters the attention and communication medium they deserve- pick up the phone or meet face to face.

Make clear that you see your problems as a joint challenge, not as a competing topic

I like to avoid seeing anything as obvious in a negotiation, and this particular ground rule is one I recommend establishing right at the beginning of a negotiation.

Make it clear that you are interested in joint problem-solving. Giving your counterpart the feeling that these are your intentions (and making it known that these are your expectations as well) sets your negotiation up for success from the start.

It’s important not to promise more than you can give in this situation. It’s easy to commit to solving the problems of others at the expense of your interests, and incredibly unpleasant for all sides if anyone fails to follow through on a promise that was way over their head.

Though they are not exactly classic negotiation books, I highly recommend both Skin in the Game and Do Nothing as references to how you should approach negotiation. Giving your counterpart and your negotiation the right attention and focus is key to achieving strong, lasting, and successful negotiations.

See you next post!

Yasmine Guerin

Founder of Negotiatress



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