When you’re involved in a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement with someone there are a multitude of factors that can affect the process and outcome. One of the more significant variables is relationship. In the midst of ongoing discussion - negotiating a contract, persuading someone to share your perspective, offering feedback, resolving a conflict – the status of your relationship with the other party can swing the pendulum dramatically.
Reaching agreement can be simplified when the status of your relationship with the other party is at a high level of trust. In the words of Stephen Covey - Educator, Author, Businessman:
“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
The higher your relationship status, the lower the potential for barriers to become outright blockers. The lower the status, the easier it is to walk out or walk all over someone since there isn’t as much to lose.
Think about defining and categorizing your business relationships in these ways:
At the rapport stage, you merely shake hands and act somewhat superficial. You do what you have to do and are not swayed by duty to a relationship as you are merely acquaintances.
When you go up a level to reciprocity, there are often attempts to test the relationship; to try out the give and take. This helps parties gain clarity for where they stand in the relationship and can facilitate difficult conversations.
The most valuable type of relationship is one based on trust. At this level, parties offer one another the benefit of the doubt. They have each other’s backs. Even if you do something wrong or forget to do something, you work through conflict for the sake of the relationship.
When you have trust between parties, you may be more inclined to base a part of your decision on that trust. As you build trust, the flow of information increases from a little to a lot. As you know more about people’s interests, you’re likely to increase the efficiency of your negotiations and other types of conversations that benefit from agreement. Ultimately you’re able to conduct a more effective type of negotiation that is value-based rather than merely a haggle.
Effective negotiators and communicators know the status of their relationships. They would be equally attuned to the importance of key relationships with internal parties, such as their manager, direct reports, colleagues, and other teams’ leaders, as well as external parties like clients, vendors, partners, and other stakeholders. They also know what to do to move key relationships up the ladder of trust.
Relationships require effort and initiative. They don’t work well on auto-pilot or when taken for granted. You need to have a keen awareness of how to create, nurture, and even repair relationships by periodically performing a relationship mapping exercise. This helps you consider with whom, why and how you have relationships and figure out the true value of each.
As a final thought, while a strong relationship status can be a solid indicator for mutual gain, it does not mean that you should overlook other key factors in advance of a crucial conversation such as preparation, interests, data, and alternatives. Ultimately, successful conversations are part art, part science with key ingredients whose measurements are subject to best judgment, experience and relationship status.