Negotiations happen every day, from discussing a project at work to deciding which movie to watch for family-fun night. Skilled negotiators are aware of negotiating tactics like bargaining style, time and place, and active listening. However, some of the biggest and overlooked influences in a negotiation are the power of emotions and trust.

When making a decision, especially concerning an uncertain future, emotions come into play and often have a critical impact. Like emotion, trust, while often irrational, follows fairly predictable patterns. Being aware of these patterns, managing them and using them to your advantage can make you a more successful negotiator.

Identifying Emotions

One of the easiest ways to improve your ability to negotiate is to manage your emotions. The field of emotional intelligence typically describes this skill as being aware of your emotions and being able to regulate them. The most advanced negotiator takes this skill a step further into empathy — understanding another party’s emotions and being able to adjust your own behavior as a result.

For example, fear is one of the strongest emotions and motivators. If you enter a situation afraid of one of the possible outcomes, you will not be able to make optimal decisions. The first step in dealing with this fear is to be aware of it. The second is to manage it, including becoming comfortable with the outcome, minimizing its possibility and creating other alternatives. The final step, for negotiators with high emotional intelligence, is to be able to pick up on another party’s fear and adjust accordingly.

It is important to note that not all emotions are bad. For example, vulnerability, while sometimes mistaken for weakness, provides a strong signal to the other person. Phrases such as, “I’m not sure if we will be the best partner for you” or, “We aren’t for everyone” are powerful when used properly. They serve as statements against self-interest that signal to the other person that you are willing to share information even if it could hurt your chances of reaching an agreement. Doing so makes others more apt to trust you. Other examples of the power of vulnerability to develop trust include asking for help and sharing a weakness.

Building Rapport

As humans, we are naturally reluctant to share information with strangers, which is why it is important to establish a relationship. Research shows that merely chatting on the phone for five minutes makes people feel more cooperative with the other party.

A great way to build rapport with someone is through storytelling. In a negotiation, you can help make the other person feel comfortable by exchanging stories. You’re not only engaging emotion, but you are also making information more relevant and memorable. The more relevant the story, the stronger the connection you’ll create. The stronger the connection, the more likely the other person will trust you, share information with you and want to reach an agreement.

Keep in mind that how you communicate is just as important as what you say. Conveying a message to another person includes body language, gestures and tones, which is why medium selection is a function of the message and audience. For example, when meeting someone for the first time, meeting in person or using videoconferencing will provide you with the best opportunity to develop rapport. However, for something like summarizing contract terms, email will facilitate precision and give all parties the time to review everything.


Perhaps the most valuable skill of a successful negotiator and communicator is listening. Effective communication requires active listening. The 70/30 rule suggests that good communicators tend to spend 70% of the time listening and only 30% of the time speaking.

Great listeners make other people feel more comfortable, which leads them to share more — and, as we often hear, information is power. While people frequently use the phrase “we talked them into it,” it’s listening that will help you reach an agreement. Two easy listening strategies are writing down questions before every meeting and bringing a notepad to take notes. And, never interrupt!

Facilitating Action

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork and understand the other person’s needs and desired outcomes, it’s time to seal the deal. Some of the most effective ways to compel others to act is to provide them with options, achieve small “yesses” and create a safety net.

Providing three options gives the other person a sense of control without overwhelming them with choices, making it more likely that they will advance the negotiation. Achieving small “yesses” takes advantage of people’s desire to be consistent. Asking first for a brief call, then a video call and then a meeting is an example of making progressively larger asks. By the time you propose a solution, the other person will be thinking, “There must be a reason I have spent all this time with this individual!”

Finally, a safety net is any mechanism that removes part, or all, of the risk. Consider, as an example, the money-back guarantee: Regardless of the fact that many online shoppers have kept products that they don’t like, the ability to do return them makes them more comfortable when purchasing it. It signals to them, like a warranty, the quality of the company and its products/services.

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. In order to be a skilled and successful negotiator, keep in mind that emotions play a large role in the negotiation process. Don’t forget to build rapport through storytelling using an appropriate and rich medium. Finally, listen intently — and facilitate action.