Why Isn’t Your Counterpart Talking?

The “flavor of the decade” in the world of negotiation style research and training is to build rapport. It’s often the answer to every negotiation challenge that a negotiation consultant is asked.

Why is rapport so essential? The reasoning looks like this:

  • If you build rapport, your counterpart will trust you.
  • If they trust you, they will share information.
  • If they share information, you can uncover their true interests.
  • If you uncover their true interests, you can offer win-win trades.

And everyone, of course, knows, win-win trades are the key to a successful negotiation process.

Sound great? Yes, in theory it is great.

But if what your attempts hit a stone wall?

You: “How was your weekend?”

Counterpart: “Why do you want to know?”

You: “Uh. Just making small talk.”

Counterpart: “I hate small talk. What’s wrong with my proposal? It’s a good proposal; just say yes.”

I often ask the procurement teams I am training how they perceive the rapport building attempts of their suppliers. I often get an earful of how disingenuous it seems.

“They ask me how my weekend was every time I see them and barely listen to the answer”.

From sales people I often hear how cold and unfriendly their procurement counterparts can be.

“They can be so unfriendly. How can I be a partner with them if they won’t even take a minute to discuss the weather?”

So much for rapport building.

So, how DO you build rapport in the negotiation process? The answer is, slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully.

We need an abundance of strategies that suit the temperaments and interest of the myriad counterparts we find ourselves negotiating with.

When it comes to preliminary small talk, keep in mind; you are not there to talk about what interests YOU. Find out what interests your counterpart. Follow their lead. Don’t expect to be instant good buddies, as the negotiation style of building rapport focuses on building trust.

It takes time to build a truly authentic rapport of trust with our counterparts. Every phone call, every response to their email, every negotiation round can either bring us further away from or closer to a truly trusting and authentic partnership.

Research also tells us that similarity, and extensive contact build rapport.

Who do you both know? What interests do you both have? When possible, have a site visit, short and sweet. We are all busy, but rapport and trust are harder and slower to achieve without extensive contact.

And as we all know, anyone who truly listens to us and shows they understand our perspective, we regard as an ally. This does not mean the listener agrees with us, just that they hear us. Truly listening is a skill that takes intention, and it builds trust fast.

Finally, share information – about yourself, your company, and your goals. Show you care about, and are committed to, your counterpart; most people will reciprocate.

In summary, put thought into your rapport with your counterpart and how to strengthen your trust and connection. Nobody ever said “I spent too much time building rapport; it wasn’t worth it.” A strong rapport and trust always pays off in spades when negotiating.

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