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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

The Power of Trust in a Negotiation

A principled negotiator is someone who employs a method of negotiation that focuses on finding mutually beneficial solutions by emphasizing interests rather than positions. Since the 1981 publication of "Getting to Yes" by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Planting the idea that negotiators should pursue a collaborative negotiation approach.

Yet, at Impact Negotiation Group, we've found that most negotiations still tend to be competitive; in fact, about 90% follow this approach, and there is nothing wrong with that! This competitive nature persists primarily because the prerequisites required to engage in collaborative negotiations—like transparency, openness, trustworthiness, creativity, flexibility, and sufficient joint time—are often missing. Trust stands out as a critical factor. When trust is present, it allows a negotiation environment with more openness and flexibility.

The significance of trust in business cannot be overstated. It serves as the foundation of business relationships, in which most collaboration between parties will simply not exist if there wasn’t some sort of trust present. Appearing trustworthy is crucial even in competitive negotiations, as parties are unlikely to conclude deals if they consider their counterparts untrustworthy.

Research by Dr. Alexander Todorov of Princeton University has shown that it just takes a tenth of a second to make a first judgment if you find someone trustworthy. This quick decision is not just superficial; it plays a significant role in how individuals form an opinion of the other party and their overall trustworthiness.

The Impact of First Impressions

First impressions can either build a strong foundation for trust or do the exact opposite. A negative first impression can lead to confirmation bias, where someone looks for evidence to support their initial untrustworthy judgment, often overlooking signs that point to the opposite. The same holds true if the first impression is one of being trustworthy. People have the tendency to uphold their first impression and seek evidence to back up their first impression. That means you often have one shot to make the right first impression.

Ensuring the right First Impression

Creating a perception of trust is crucial in negotiations. True trust takes years to build through many interactions, but negotiators can take action to create a perception of trustworthiness right from the start. How? Consider doing the following:

  • Facial Expressions: Show the other party a true smile, particularly a “Duchenne smile” that engages both the eyes and the mouth. This way of smiling shows authenticity and friendliness, which can put the other party at ease. Additionally, maintaining a neutral or facial expression helps to avoid any appearance of aggression or disapproval. Such expressions communicate openness and receptiveness, making you appear more approachable and willing to engage in positive interactions. This approachability is critical in establishing a foundation of trust from the very first interaction. So remember to SMILE genuinely when you first meet the counterparty.


  • Mirror the Other Party: Research done by the University of California showed positive results in creating trust by mimicking the body language of the other party. This subtle mirroring can influence the other person's perception, making them feel understood and connected to you. By reflecting their posture, gestures, or expressions, you signal empathy and alignment with their feelings or attitudes. This technique can significantly enhance the feeling of likeability and create the perception of trust.


  • Body Language: Adopting an open posture by avoiding defensive gestures such as crossing your arms or legs is essential when wanting to create the perception of trustworthiness. A open stance shows that you are accessible and receptive to what others have to say. Also


  • Eye Contact: Making direct eye contact not only displays confidence but also sincerity towards the other party. It shows you are fully engaged and present, which can be reassuring to the other party and can strengthen their perception of your trustworthiness.


  • Appearance: Dressing similarly to the other party can play a significant role in how you are perceived. This alignment in appearance can subconsciously signal to the other party that you share similar values or backgrounds, thereby increasing the trustworthiness factor. However, it is equally important to respect the norms and expectations of the industry you are operating within. For instance, while a tech startup may favor casual attire, a law firm might expect formal dress. Finding a balance between mirroring your counterpart and adhering to industry standards is key to projecting professionalism and reliability.


  • Timeliness: Being on time for a meeting reflects respect for the other party’s time and shows that you value the opportunity to engage with them. Although being on time does not necessarily increase the perception of trustworthiness, being late definitely decreases it.


  • Authenticity: Finally, authenticity is KEY. Authentic behavior resonates deeply with people, as most can intuitively detect insincerity. Being genuine in your expressions, statements, and actions helps to build a lasting foundation of trust. Not being authentic is often picked up by the other party and is a fast way to decrease the perception of trustworthiness.


Trust is foundational to any negotiation. Without it the chances of getting to a deal are slim. Besides that, trust is an essential prerequisite required to negotiate in a more collaborative fashion aimed at increasing value. As such negotiators need to be proactively working on creating the perception of trust. The power of first impressions in developing the perception of trustworthiness is instrumental.

These initial moments can significantly influence how trustworthy the other party perceives you, setting the tone for the rest of the negotiation. By focusing on demonstrating trustworthiness through facial expressions, body language, attire, timeliness, and authenticity, negotiators can effectively influence their counterparts’ perceptions.

Emphasizing these elements not only enhances the likelihood of a favorable outcome but also lays the groundwork for potential long-term business relationships. As we move forward in a world where quick judgments and digital interactions are commonplace, mastering the art of the first impression is more crucial than ever for negotiation success.


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