Trust in Negotiations – Beware

Trust should not be confused with Making Assumptions.

In reading quite a few articles and blogs on the meat supply crisis over the past days, it is clear that many who should know better have been making a lot of assumptions about the performance of contracts and subcontracts. They appear to be trusting their systems because they seem to have been working safely and efficiently. Managers prefer not to go looking for trouble, especially when the numbers are looking good. And of course they are able to say that they have an audit system in place, and all sources are subject to regular checking. But all of this is based on assumption and not trust. This problem applies to retailers, banks, broadcasters, in fact just about all organisations.

All of us are guilty of making similar assumptions when buying. We assume our favourite suppliers are selling us safe food and we assume our favourite brands contain exactly what it says on the label. But now we know different.

Assumptions are dangerous. Making decisions based on assumptions is taking unnecessary and sometimes very high risks. Most weeks I will observe and analyse many negotiations. On most occasions I witness negotiators assuming their counter party to be making honest and truthful statements, even when they themselves are lying through their teeth! Strange but common behaviour.

Quite often assumptions are not challenged because the individuals do not know how to. They are not able to phrase questions properly; they are uncomfortable challenging statements and are fearful to upset the other side and so “lose” the deal; they know something is not quite right but not sure what, so they let it go; once the deal has been done it is for others to implement – if it goes wrong, or does not work out they can avoid the blame and pass it on down the line.


  • Trust is built up over time between parties. It becomes established as agreements are honoured exactly as agreed – not just once, but every time.
  • Trust is a major part of a relationship, a corner stone.
  • Trust allows each side to “know” how the other party will act, not just an expectation but a promise that will be fulfilled.
  • One can expect (and be right) that secrets and confidences will be kept. The parties know if the trust is ever broken it can never be repaired.
  • Deals will be delivered to the letter – exactly as agreed, not distorted, misinterpreted, reneged upon or ignored and forgotten.
  • If changes have to be made they will be discussed and agreed in advance.
  • The parties know the value of trust (and the cost of losing it).

In Business:

Trust is very difficult to maintain because:

Employees are for ever changing.

Market and economic pressures do not remain constant.

Greed for profit, commission or bonus have a negative impact – relationships are expendable when there is a quick profit to be made.

When an individual does not understand complexity, consequence, sustainability and the long term, they do not understand trust, relationships, integrity and partnership.

As a negotiator I do not trust anyone. Assumptions have to be tested.

Published by sharpdealer

International Negotiating Specialist and Expert.

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