Building Bonds – Building Relationships

By Ron Shapiro

In today’s competitive business environment, the value of long-term relationships can not be underestimated.  Throughout my 30 years in business, I have come to discover that there are very few deals that are truly one-time, never-again transactions.  The world of negotiation is a small one and because paths will invariably cross again and again, it is vital to establish, nurture and maintain valuable relationships.  After all, many more contracts are renewed than written from scratch.

Relationships Begin with Bonding

Prior to entering into any negotiation consider that every negotiation takes place within a unique environment – and I am not referring to the physical setting (i.e. the conference room or the office).  I mean the feelings, sensitivities, tensions, fears and hopes that comprise the atmosphere of the negotiation.  Bonding — finding what you have in common with the other party, rather than where you are at odds – will create a more positive negotiating environment.  Bonds do not just happen, they must be built.  Find a link that leads to conversation that will lead to another link.  Eventually, you will build  a chain that stretches from one party to the other — like a bridge.  The more it is traveled, the more familiar it becomes.  After enough travel, there is not just a bond, there is a shared set of experiences — a relationship and trust. When you encounter an impasse with someone you do not like (or do not know), the likelihood is that the impasse will stand.  When a similar situation occurs with someone that you know, understand and perhaps even like, you are more likely to find a way to move beyond a deadlock. Without question, a good negotiating environment can carry you past bad negotiating moments.

So how does one start the bonding process?  I suggest three important steps:

Gather Information:

Before you meet with the other side, review any research you did on them.  Chances are, you will gain some insight into backgrounds interests and habits of those you will be facing. Most likely, you will find some common ground and when you finally meet, you will have a base of bonding information on which to build.


Bonding clues are everywhere.  If you meet in the other side’s office, don’t miss the opportunity to notice what is on the desk, floors and walls — family photos, college degrees, running shoes tucked under the desk or a paperweight made from a sailboat pulley.  If you should meet in neutral territory, study the other person:  style of dress – conservative or bold, shoes – Italian, sensible or beat up boaters, college ring, diver’s watch, body type – jock or couch potato.


Take advantage of what you have observed.  Make the first gesture and ask some questions.  Bonding is the difference between “Hello, these are my key issues.  What are yours?”  and “I couldn’t help notice your watch.  Do you scuba dive?”   Once you make the gesture of building the bond, it is likely to build on itself. Ask about a vacation, child, hobby or college and you’ll get a response.  You are asking them to tell you about something that they like. If you find that you have similar interests, you may turn out to be friends who simply have a job to do. By identifying strong bonds, you now have something that every negotiator needs, but rarely recognizes – empathy.  This common understanding will make you more open to each other’s interests in a deal and far more likely to achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Bonding, however, is an on-going process. As important as establishing those initial bonds are, you must never forget that bonds are like muscles.  If you do not keep them active — they weaken. A true relationship is not established if the bond is allowed to disintegrate. Make it a habit to keep track of the people with whom you negotiate during the times you are not negotiating.

•    A phone call or handwritten note just to say “hello”
•    A holiday – birthday – anniversary card
•    A congratulations on a promotion or child’s graduation
•    Send comments about your contact’s company newsletter of publication
•    A article that you thought might be of interest
•    An invitation to lunch, social or sporting event

It has been said that it takes five times the time – effort – money to win a new client as it does to keep and existing one.   Relationships can accomplish what acquaintances can not.  Relationships, nurtured by continual bonding, make for not just one deal, but for deals that lead to deals, repeated deals, sub-deals and renewing deals.  Why make one deal when you can make the investment in the relationship and make several?

© 2009 Shapiro Negotiations Institute.  All Rights Reserved.

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