Building a solid working relationship boils down to one of the standard metronomes of business: know, like, and trust. Know, like, trust. Know, like, trust. Know, like, trust.
Some negotiations are, admittedly, adversarial. In these cases, the best outcome is one where neither party is particularly happy or satisfied.
If, however, you frame negotiations as any interaction in which you’re looking for a specific outcome (and we do), most negotiations are simply about relationships. How well do you know someone? How well do they know you? Do you like that person, and vice versa? Do you trust each other? This is the glue that holds relationships, and negotiations, together.
Think about the worst date you ever had. Over sips of coffee or cocktail lie awkward, uncomfortable silences. You wish the waiter delivering your plates would stay longer to keep the conversation moving. The evening simply cannot end quickly enough as you struggle to find something, anything to talk about. Your ability to get to know that person, like them, and build any kind of trust is nonexistent.
Contrast the experience with the best date you ever had. Laughter lifts the evening, and you wave away the wait staff, hooked on every word. One hour turns to five in a blink of an eye. You leave floating in a cloud of infatuation with crossed fingers that they’ll call you for another date, or planning your call ASAP. You feel like you can’t get to know each other fast enough, you certainly like one another, and the trust builds with each text, phone call, and day out.
What’s the difference?
Some might say chemistry, literal and figurative. Pheromones, entrainment of brain waves and heart rhythms, and shared basic background and interests are all reasons folks give for why there’s an instant, easy ‘click’ with another person.
You’re free to believe whatever you like when it comes to romance, but when it comes to business and formal negotiations, we want you to reliably succeed. Which means knowing how to engineer that instant, easy ‘click’ so that you can build the know, like, and trust factor.
These kinds of fantastic interactions can, in fact, be engineered. If you learn how to engineer them in a professional setting, your relationships will last as long as you’d like and/or need them to, while your negotiations go down as smoothly as that top shelf bourbon in your date night Manhattan.
It boils down to one word: Rapport.
Rapport refers to a mutual feeling of harmony in a relationship, where both parties are able to communicate easily, and feel as though they can understand one another’s feelings and/or ideas. Skilled doctors and mental health clinicians are masters of rapport, as they draw out their patients’ stories and leverage the priorities of that person to get them to change behaviors and thought patterns that are damaging or dysfunctional.
When done well, creating rapport feels completely seamless to the other person. With a few simple actions, the other person will wonder why, exactly, they like you so much. They’ll marvel at your natural charisma, and be stunned by how easy it felt to be around you and do business with you.
In case you missed last week’s email (you can read and subscribe to future newsletters here), mirroring is a surefire, efficient way to build rapport with someone. There are several ways to employ this basic strategy.
Physical mirroring is precisely what it sounds like: shifting your body to reflect the posture of the person you’re talking with. Do they have one ankle over their knee? Arms crossed across their chest? Head cocked to one side? Whatever they’re doing, shift into a similar posture.
This is a subconscious means of comforting the other person, and signaling you’re on the same side for collaboration.
If you feel uncomfortable or stiff practicing this consciously, notice when you’re out and about how different people are positioning themselves with one another. You can instantly tell who is on a good date or a bad date based on posture. Notice as well, when you’re in an enjoyable interaction, how your posture moves naturally. Does it mirror the person you’re talking with? Likely so.
Another way to mirror someone is verbally. The undertone of a verbal mirror is to confirm you’re listening, and then to elicit more information from that person. Simply put, couch the words of their main point that person has said as a question. “I need you to make 50 copies of this.” “50 copies?” When you use this strategy, the other person will confirm, deny, or rework their thought process. Here’s a brief example of how this might go:
Person 1 (in California): “We need 10 people to make the trip out to New York to see the client.
Person 2 (budget manager and trip planner, knowing the company can’t swing a 10 person cross country sojourn): “10 people to see the client?”
Person 1: “Yes, this is a high profile client, and I want to make sure they’re getting what they want.”
Person 2: “What they’d like?
Person 1: [pauses] “On second thought, their director told me this morning they just want to meet the key personnel on the team.”
Person 2: “Key personnel?”
Person 1: “Yeah. Who’s lead on this project? Let’s book them and another one or two people they need to have with them.”
Person 2: “Sure, I’ll find out and make the arrangements.”
Done and done.
While this may look contrived in black and white, if you give it a go in your day to day, you’ll find it a shockingly effective technique once you’ve mastered it.
Open Ended Questions
Another fantastic way to build rapport — though it takes a few minutes more — is to ask some open ended questions and then (and this is critically important) actively listen to the answers.
An open ended question is any question designed to elicit more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. The more information you’re able to glean, and the more the other person can talk, the better positioned you’ll be to offer rationale that supports your desired outcome and addresses their hesitations and concerns.
While on a date you might ask someone about what they’re interested in right now, or a trip they’d love to take. Maybe you’d ask more about their career goals or family members. Meanwhile, in the boardroom you can ask about what they love about their company, or what improvements would look like. What kinds of functionality do they need from this new software, or what are the gaps they’re seeing in operations right now.
Show genuine interest as you ask your questions and while you listen to cement your working relationship. Of course, ask any follow up questions to further clarify and draw out additional information. Only then, offer your thoughts or solution.
Finally, if you’re embarking on a long-term business relationship, practice generosity. Send a card checking in. Keep track of birthdays and send a small token. Does someone have a work anniversary? Give them a call with congratulations or a note. Offer to take someone for coffee, or bring a favorite meal for lunch.
Of course, this is only possible in some instances (beware accusations of bribery), but for solid, long term strategic partnerships, is key. We’ve both blog posts and podcast episodes that go in-depth when it comes to reciprocity, which you can read here, or listen to here.
And there you have it! You’re all set to start practicing building rapport and cementing killer negotiations and mutually beneficial relationships!
Wishing you winning negotiations!