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Negotiation Skills

Building Rapport: The Key to Successful Negotiation

February 28, 2014 by Dr. Jon Warner in Negotiation Skills

Building Rapport: The Key to Successful Negotiation

Whether a negotiation ‘event’ is intended to last for 2 minutes or 2 hours, it is important to approach it in the same calm and measured way and to realize that some kind of relationship will need to be established with the other negotiating party (even where the two “sides” have quite different or contrary positions). Many people that have been involved in management/union negotiations, for example, know that any hostile behavior at the outset must disappear in order for real and practical progress of any sort to be made. In other words, a vast number of negotiations simply fail because the initial attitude of mind towards the other negotiating party was poor or negative. This can include:

  • Anger/hostility
  • Vindictiveness
  • Annoyance
  • Impatience
  • Distraction/lack of attention

… to name but a few!!

Particularly in dispute negotiations, such poor states of mind often lead to a complete disrespect for not only the other party in terms of common courtesy but for the whole negotiation process itself, perhaps seeing it as a frustrating waste of time and not worth the effort. It is therefore up to both parties in the process to govern their own personal mind-set and behavior, and hold each other accountable for showing open respect, for each other and what they are trying to achieve in process terms.

Even if the state of mind is calm and ready, many negotiators can make the mistake of opening the conversation with a combative statement or at least a controversial one, thus destroying any chance of empathy or rapport being established in an instant. One real example of this was heard once again in a management/union negotiation where one of the management side’s opening statements began “we all know that shop floor people are pretty lazy” – not surprisingly, it took a long time to get discussions back on an ‘even keel’ after this provocative remark.

Neutral opening statements always help to build rapport by avoiding any controversial issues and even finding some common ground very early on, however trivial this may be. Remarks about the weather, the weekend’s sport, upcoming holidays or even general health and well-being are the most common examples of neutral subjects. Even better, a little light humor can work wonders in settling down any nervous expectation, but once again, take care not to offend.

While you are in this pleasant and comfortable rapport building stage, it is possible to smoothly move on to how you see the negotiation process ‘unfolding’. Whilst this may cover how much time may be available and some very broad goals from the meeting, these process remarks can be used to emphasize the anticipated common ground that already exists. An example might be – “Perhaps we can start by thanking Fiona and John for their excellent preparation work on behalf of both sides prior to this meeting – I’m sure we all agree that it has taken us a long way forward!”

Neutral venues for any negotiation can also help to build rapport as the overtones of your place or theirs are avoided. Such “physical” factors are important not to forget, as they often play quite a powerful role in the mental psychology of negotiating. Walking into “home” territory often puts pressure on the “home side” to perform or “play to the gallery”. This is why so many arbitration disputes always choose a neutral territory.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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