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Negotiating in a Low-to-No
Editors’ Note: In the final chapter of our trilogy on trust, its development and repair, a “pracademic” with significant experience of high stakes conflicts assesses situations where it is not practicable even to try to build or rebuild trust—and yet a deal must be made, whether with a political enemy, former spouse or labor union leader. For these situations, Cristal offers an alternative paradigm of three elements: allowing for the emotional component of “freedom to hate”; replacing for working purposes the concept of trust with that of respect; and building trust in the process rather than in the good faith of the other side. These steps, he argues, can make some of the most difficult negotiations workable.
We all want trust. We all need trust. We would all like to be trusted. In negotiation, in particular, we all want a trustworthy partner. Trust has gained a significant role in social science research, and is the subject of comprehensive ongoing research in the field of negotiation processes (Kydd 2005; Burton 1969), international negotiation (Kremenyuk 1991) and mediation (Salem 2003; Ross and Wieland 1996). One of the most common—and prevailing—arguments in this field is that “when profit, security or peace depend upon the motives and actions of another party, trust becomes essential” (Malhotra 2004).
Negotiations are conducted within one of two possible setups: deal making, or within the context of a given conflict. While in deal making negotiations one can most likely choose her negotiating partner, in conflict negotiations such a choice does not exist. In conflict negotiations, you are forced to negotiate with your political rival, former business partner, brutal hostage taker or angry spouse. This chapter argues that success in these negotiations—which I define as an outcome that addresses your interests and is better than any valid alternative (Thompson 1990)—does not depend on establishing trust, but rather on finding an alternative paradigm which will allow you to reach a sustainable, satisfactory, agreement even with a person with whom you would prefer not to deal at all.
This chapter argues that despite the leading trust paradigm in negotiation literature, sustainable agreements, even with the most adversarial and untrustworthy negotiation partners, can be achieved with the absence of trust, and trust should not be considered as a condition or pre-requisite for any success in negotiations.
My own years of professional experience, coupled with simple conceptual frameworks, indicate that mediating a deal between a hostile divorcing couple, splitting clients between former business partners, negotiating with terrorists or cyber-criminals, or getting a deal signed with political enemies are possible even when there is no trust between the negotiating parties.
In challenging some traditional concepts in the theory of negotiation, this chapter will coin the term “low to no trust environment” and will offer an alternative conceptual paradigm, as well as prescriptive advice for how to negotiate when you distrust your partner.
Trust in Negotiation Literature
Throughout the last thirty years, researchers have conducted a number of influential studies investigating the role that trust plays in negotiation and conflict management (Ross and Lacroix 1996). Trust, often defined as a multilayered and multidimensional phenomenon, remains an important topic of inquiry across a variety of academic disciplines including sociology, psychology, and economics. Although this multidisciplinary perspective has created a canon that strengthens trust literature (Colquitt, Scott and LePine 2007; Bigley and Pearce 1998; Rousseau et al.1998; Nowak and Sigmund 1993), it also has created the need to examine and conceptualize in an integrative manner the leading academic research on trust, its various definitions, its components and impact on real-world negotiation processes, international negotiations, and mediation, as well as the need—or even the pre-requisite—for establishing trust or investing in trust-building measures (Das and Teng 2001)...
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