But in negotiating agreements, the converse is probably more true: “Verify, but trust.” Because even after our most diligent verification and despite all of our most cynical planning, no deal can be made without some degree of trust. Deals require that leap of faith which everyone — especially trial lawyers — fear like the plague. But that’s how it is: no trust, no deal. And most lawyers need to make deals in most of their cases.
How can you inspire trust in the mediation setting? Here are a few ways:
- Connect. The more we feel connected to someone, the more we trust them. Connection comes from what we say, and whether we share similar interests and backgrounds (like friends, schools and work) or even similar challenges or conflicts. Even if we have nothing apparently in common, we can connect by demonstrating genuine understanding of another’s interests. Actions, like looking someone in the eye and talking directly to him or her, develop connection.
- Reveal your own interests and problems. For example, one can acknowledge “I have a very difficult client” or “I get a bonus if I can settle this case by the end of the year.” Opening the door even slightly to your own thoughts and interests gives those around us something with which to connect.
- Trust. Trust inspires trust. Sending out a test “trust balloon,” like a meaningful first offer even in the face of a ridiculously high demand, sends an important message: “We invite you tosee that we’re serious about settling the case for a fair price. Trust us by responding with a more meaningful demand.”
- Keep your promises. Do not agree to anything that you cannot deliver and deliver whatever you agree to. Virtually nothing destroys trust faster than not living up to your word.
- Explain your position. Flat declarations create suspicion. Why can’t you do X? Why won’t you? Adding those "why" details, even late in a negotiation, helps the other side understand your interests and motivations.
- Maintain the trust you've established. Nourish the embers of trust like Tom Hanks’ character trying to start a fire in “Castaway.” When those embers go out, they’re hard as heck torelight.
Trust truly is a two-way street. It's your job to instill in your opponent enough trust in you to get a deal. Those who learn to instill trust, naturally and confidently, have acquired a very useful skill indeed.