screamingAre some people difficult to work with? We all occasionally run into this, however, contractors may have this problem more often because they have new coworkers more often. A lack of trust can be a big part of the problem. Now there is some research by Gunia, Brett, and Nandkeolyar (hereafter “GBN”) that outlines practical, tried and true tactics for encouraging and building trust during business negotiations. This blog will adapt these findings to building trust in all types of work situations.

Trust is built on perceptions of similarity, feelings of liking, and the reciprocity of sharing information. GBN advocate that individuals assume there is no reason for distrust at first and focus on emphasizing the basis for trust by indicating similarities (e.g., common contacts, knowledge, experiences, or commitment to the task/goal), a positive general attitude, and showing concern for others. This general approach to interactions doesn’t “borrow” trouble.

Then, you can test the level of trust by sharing some task-related information. If you have gotten some signals that they are hesitant about trusting you (e.g., general hostility, perhaps non-verbals, or side comments) start with some relatively small task-related information that helps them understand your work goals. This can begin a “virtuous cycle” of reciprocal behavior – you share, they share, you share, they share, etc. Reciprocal behavior is a very strong characteristic of human behavior worldwide. GBN suggest using it to build trust if at all possible.

Your response to someone saying, let’s not “make nice” but get down to doing X would be to explain why understanding what each of you is trying to achieve working together given your different roles and responsibilities should help support the idea of some reciprocity. Of course, sometimes finding goals you share can be a challenge. GBN suggest exploring these areas when sharing information and looking for commonalities:

  • Propose what you think is a shared vision for what you want to achieve
  • Propose a future happening: Perhaps you can agree on what will happen if something isn’t done and also agree that outcome is not acceptable
  • Find a common enemy to achieving success (even if your definition of success is different)

Often we want to focus on the individual who we see as the root of the problem, but GBN argue against that tactic because attacking someone obviously does not encourage trust. Focus on the problem, not the people. If nothing seems to be working, point that out (without blaming) and suggest how to refocus on common goals. If that does not work, GBN suggest taking a break.

Of course, sometimes the feelings and beliefs of others are simply too strong to be converted to a trusting relationship in a reasonable time period. If that is your conclusion, GBN suggest that you revert to bargaining and developing rational support for your contentions. When bargaining, think about introducing new issues that may be of interest to the other person(s), and/or try making offers that involve multiple components. Over time analyzing the responses to these tactics may help you intuit what is truly important to them and this can often speed your interactions with them.

Working smoothly with coworkers is a hallmark of all high-quality workers but it is particularly important to contractors who are often brought in to make change and to do it in a timely fashion. Having a set of tactics that can be implemented quickly can help you stay on your time-line.


Resources: “Trust me, I’m a negotiator: Diagnosing trust to negotiate effectively, globally,” by B. C. Gunia, J. M. Brett, A. K. Nandkeolyar, Organizational Dynamics, available on-line at ScienceDirect 12/2/13.


Sally Power, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and personal consultant accelerating successful career transitions.

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