Personal & Executive Coach

Consulting Psychologist & Psychoanalyst

Negotiation in Relationships

Wu, J.H. and Laws, D. (2003). Trust and Other-anxiety in negotiations: Dynamics across boundaries of self and culture: Negotiation Journal. 19 (4): 329-368.


Trust, from a psychological perspective, is shaped by an ongoing assessment of whether another party shares one’s interests or diverges from them. To the extent that interests and agendas are perceived to diverge, wariness and protectionism might be mobilized. In many negotiating moments, divergence of interest may not necessarily raise emotion; however the higher and more personal the stakes, the more warmth and passion may evolve. Trust then bespeaks an affective or emotional experience that we might call safety: to trust is to feel safe in the presence of another; to trust is to believe that another individual’s separateness and different skin, will, body, motivations, and agenda will not impinge on those interests that are critical to our well-being. Development of trust is thus an interpersonal or relational event, firmly established through the experiences of a life that a person uses to teach herself what to expect in that life. Even before one is aware of one’s existence or separateness as an entity, one is learning about how an Other regards and treats one’s interests.

Many transactions between persons can be usefully understood as negotiations of one sort or another, ranging in formality and structure, as well as substantive focus. Regardless of the degree of each, the likelihood of a successful outcome is increased by the level of trust. The level of trust, in turn, correlates positively with the degree of playfulness in an interaction on the one hand, and negatively with the degree of constriction, rigidity, and control at the other. Where there is lack of trust, options become delimited and ultimately polarized, cognition becomes striated, and affect responses tense and predictable. Under stress, humans tend to regress to progressively earlier or base-line levels of functioning, which refer to basic assumptions or embedded patterns of thought. These evoke corresponding anxieties and affect which, in turn, may attenuate logical processes along with flexibility of thinking. Creativity and playfulness operate in inverse proportion to anxiety and fear, which are multiply determined and deeply grounded in individual and groups.