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Building trust with consistency and resilience.


Whether it is in their dealing with the European Union or with Conservative Remain Rebels, Theresa May and her government have not yet understood that trust matters in negotiations. Simon Usherwood explains why.

[This piece was originally written in the format of a Twitter thread and has been minorly edited and corrected.] 


Since we’re thinking about trust, let’s consider what the literature says about its role in negotiations.

The key point is that trust matters.

It cues cooperative behaviour, improves information sharing and generally is linked to better outcomes (by which I mean ones that serve all interests equitably and durably).

How trusting you are of others is a mix of your chronic disposition (i.e. do you generally trust people?), situational factors (e.g. what’s at stake?), and the history of the particular relationship (i.e. have they messed you about before?).

Clearly, people can be tricky, be that through deliberate deception, psychological gambits or the pressure of haggling.


The solution? Don’t be a victim.


First off, you want to manage your interluctor’s trust issues:

  • Watch what they do closely;

  • Make sure you can verify their promises;

  • Assume you’ll be exploited;

  • Never take their word;

  • Minimise interdependences.


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To pull that together, don’t let stuff happen to you, but rather actively minimise the possibility of it happen.

Part of that can be done through demonstrating your trustworthiness:

  • Meet expectations;

  • Keep promises;

  • Maintain a good reputation.


None of that requires you to trust the other side, but it helps them trust you.

But what if the trust is damaged, by someone’s actions? (which happens!)

Key to getting past that is prompt, sincere apology, without abdicating responsibility. Obviously, the worse the breach, the harder you have to work at it.

If you’re the one who’s broken the trust, then you have to accept that the rebuild will be much slower than the damaging and will hang very much on you walking the walk.

So, key points:

  • Trust is really helpful;

  • Don’t assume that trust exists;

  • It’s much easier to lose than to (re)gain trust.🔷


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” ― Warren Buffett.





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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Pixabay.)


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Associate Dean, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Surrey and Deputy Director of the ESRC's 'UK in a Changing Europe' programme.
Guildford, UK. Website

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