4 (almost devious) rapport-building secrets to transform your negotiations

Negotiations aren’t just about offers and counter-offers. The state of your connection with your counterpart can make all the difference to how things turn out.

That’s why rapport building is critical. It helps to create a collaborative dynamic that’s more conducive to achieving high value outcomes.

But how do you build rapport effectively? Here are four research-based strategies that can be so powerful they almost feel devious.

(Note: We don’t advocate devious or unethical behavior in negotiation – or anywhere else! Like with many strategies, it comes down to your intentions: if you’re using it to manipulate or hurt others, be very careful; but if you’re genuinely trying to build a relationship that fosters collaboration, go for it – and enjoy the side benefit of better outcomes.)

1. Schmooze or lose

The classic art of schmoozing shouldn’t be underestimated.

In a study by Morris et al. (2000), pre-negotiation schmoozing was a game changer in email negotiations. A friendly five-minute chat beforehand resulted in better deals for participants, with researchers concluding that “schmoozing greases the wheels of sociality and commerce, allowing relationships and deals to develop despite the friction involved in negotiations.”

Try it at the outset of your next negotiation. You may be pleasantly surprised.

2. A bit about yourself

If schmoozing works, how do you do it effectively?

Years of research show that disclosing some personal information can go a long way, prompting your counterparts to become less aggressive and more collaborative (Worthy, Albert, & Gay, 1969). And that means you’re more likely to produce the deal you’re after.

So try a little self-disclosure – like mentioning hobbies or things that you’re interested in – before your next negotiation begins.

3. Eat up

It may seem unlikely, but research shows that eating together during a negotiation will improve your outcomes.

Why? According to Lakshmi Balachandra (2013), eating is something we all do quite similarly and “[t]his unconscious mimicking of each other may induce positive feelings towards the other party and the matter under discussion.”

So consider having your next negotiation over lunch or coffee. And if your negotiation is at your counterpart’s office, why not bring some pastries along?

4. Provide a favour

Your counterpart may not have asked for a favour, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do one for them anyway.

Aside from being a nice thing to do, it can prompt your counterpart to reciprocate by returning the favour. Indeed, ‘reciprocity’ is a powerful rapport-building and persuasion strategy, and the favour doesn’t need to be elaborate to achieve results (Cialdini 1987).

For example, in one study, a student asked peers to complete a survey and drop it in a box outside the Psychology Department a few days later. The survey was anonymous, so the student would have no idea if people actually completed it. Despite that anonymity, people were three times more likely to complete the survey if the student had given them a free bottle of water. That unsolicited favor triggered a desire to reciprocate, even though the reciprocation wouldn’t be recognised (Burger et al, (1999).

Reciprocity is powerful, so bring an extra coffee or croissant (don’t forget, eating together is good!) and let human nature work for you at your next negotiation.

Build rapport and benefit

Try our rapport building strategies with your counterpart and improve your outcomes in your upcoming negotiations.

And if you want to be even more prepared, our Harvard-based Negotiation Planner will give you an added edge. You can access this free planner here.  To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.” 


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