Building Trust to Seal the Deal

Some of the most challenging changes like mergers, standard setting and public policy positions require buy-in by two or more organizations, their boards and even individual members, staff and customers. The members of the analysis or negotiation team gain enough trust through shared experience to overcome their reservations.

How can that trust be replicated and extended to win the support of those who could not be in the room when the deal is drafted? Recreate the elements of this intimate experience through alternative approaches and tools. The steps on the critical path to sealing the deal are:

  • Communicating the history of the situation
  • Defining the strategic issues
  • Sharing the compelling future
  • Addressing what’s in it for them
  • Building more relationships

Any challenging change comes with a long and often troubled past. People know some things and not others. They mistake assumptions for facts and truth. They have unexamined emotions. It takes a high degree of candor and open-mindedness for groups to understand this history and then move beyond it. If the negotiators who have been chosen because they are in the know have astonishing gaps in their understanding, just imagine what people outside this select circle don’t know and may believe. The history must be clarified and recounted to others with a convincing clarity and candor.

The negotiating team identifies strategic issues the organizations have in common. If their priorities align, the negotiators can envision a compelling future where a combined voice and resources make a powerful difference. Likewise, other stakeholders need to learn about the issues and their implications before they can buy into a compelling vision that promises solutions. Associations can use environmental scans, issues briefs, journal articles and special conference sessions on the topics to create this baseline understanding.

Still people want to know what’s in any change for them. There are many devils in the details and some can be deal-breakers. What will be the consequences of this change for different individuals and groups? Will they lose their job, position, influence or money? Even if all the critical details are not yet resolved, it is important to explain the processes and criteria to be used in making these implementation decisions.

But knowing what’s in the deal for them is not enough to overcome suspicion, especially where the other party to the deal is simply unfamiliar or perceived as the competitor or foe. Negotiators spend time getting to know each other through the formal dialogue and the casual conversations that occur over meals. People who spend time together discover their common humanity. Even if this doesn’t make them friends, it does create understanding and respect.

It is rarely practical to give all the stakeholders a shared experience, but selected surrogates can be brought into this trust-building process. Opportunities can be created for key leaders to meet. Organizations can do events and programs together. Boards and other leadership groups can interact. Messengers can be chosen who have the critical relationships to bridge the different perspectives.

All these steps to replicate the shared experience of creating the deal for the wide circle of stakeholders require a serious commitment to communicating a new understanding of the future. Until this circle of understanding and trust is widened, the deal, however promising or brilliant, is at risk.