By Geoff Dueck Thiessen
Trust. Such a big word, and a deep concept. Is it possible to negotiate a viable, win-win agreement without trust? And just how delicate is trust?
Having negotiated dozens of collective agreements and grievance settlements, I can happily say I’ve nurtured many successful trust relationships. I have also experienced the disappointment and disorientation of feeling my trust was betrayed. Most regretfully, I have to admit to having damaged trust.
Given the delicacy of trust and the collections of failures and wounds a person can collect, I’m intrigued by the concept of choosing trust when negotiating. Why not choose suspicion? Or wary, cold, and calculating military tact?
Well, if we are interested in the fruit a tree bears, we have to pay attention to what nourishes the tree. Not every agreement we negotiate will be part of a lasting, ongoing relationship. But often, the negotiation marks either the beginning of a continuing relationship, or the renewal at a particular crossroads.
As a CLAC representative, it’s important to me that our membership enjoy the fruit of a good relationship with their employers. I want them to be trusted by their employer, an engaged part of the team, enjoying ongoing mutual respect. Thus, as we negotiate the contract that gives shape to much of that employer-employee relationship, I have to honour the place of trust in that transaction.
Before sharing a few brief observations, I want to give credit where credit is due. I’ve stolen the title for this blog from Garden Valley School Division, an employer I negotiate with. They have decided they want their leadership model and their culture to be based on trust.
I have paid the price by making snap assumptions about the person I’m negotiating with. I’ve been too trusting too fast, and I’ve also been too closed when I could have been more trusting.
But snap assumptions are never completely accurate. Sure, there are a few people out there with psychopathic tendencies, but most of us are more complicated; we’re capable of good behaviour, and of bad. I was once coached to try to “call out the good dog” in the other person. The moves I make will play a big part in the moves the other person makes back.
Changing Your Mind
It’s not unusual during a negotiation for one or both parties to change their mind, creating a gap between what we expected and what is now happening. In Garden Valley School Division’s “Choosing Trust” guidelines, they see this gap being filled with trust, not suspicion.
By using curiosity to seek out the other’s intentions, we can weather the storm and salvage, even build, trust. And of course when we’re the ones who change our minds, we can limit the damage and risk by choosing to be open about our own intentions, making it even easier for the other party to “fill the gap” we ourselves have opened, with trust.
If you have received an unqualified apology, you likely know that it repairs wounds, lowers the guard, and builds trust. I can speak from experience that offering such an apology isn’t always easy, and that when it happens, it only aids in progressing negotiations more likely infused with trust than with ruthlessness.
It’s also not easy to get an apology right on the first try. I suggest practicing it first, and be open to feedback before giving to the intended audience.
Choosing trust is a lot of work. But it’s also a lot more fun!