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Negotiating with someone you do not trust is challenging, and in some relationships, negotiating cannot be avoided. Two common questions that often arise are, “how do I negotiate with someone I do not trust”, and “wouldn’t I have ‘sucker’ written on my forehead?” This article will answer those two critical questions by outlining two powerful steps to take if you find yourself faced with a situation where you need to negotiate with someone you do not trust.

Be honest about the situation.

Be upfront about your feelings–plainly and simply. It serves no purpose to deny or avoid the fact that you have lost trust in the other person, especially if you have no choice but to negotiate with that person or company. There are two ways of having an honest conversation about lost trust: The wrong way and the right way.

The wrong way to start a conversation about lost trust would be to use an inflammatory statement like, “I should never have trusted you when you promised to pay this past due balance.” An inflammatory and blaming comment is sure to erode any chance of negotiating a solution to the past due amount. With any hope of a solution gone, your alternatives are bleak: Write off the amount or sue for it. In either situation you lose time, money and peace of mind.

The right way of saying the same thing might sound something like, “I was expecting the payment for the past promised me that you would pay my company. My fear is that I cannot trust any more promises that you make.” This statement is clear, honest, and more importantly powerful. It lays out the situation without unnecessary histrionics, blame or threats. There is no question about where you stand, yet, if the other person has an explanation, s/he is likely to tell you about. Additionally, this more powerful statement allows the other person to apologize and offer to make the situation right again, like sending a courier over today with cash.

Establish some benchmarks

Benchmarks are clearly defined measures to ensure that the other party’s actions are conforming to their verbal promises. When someone has broken promises ask for more safeguards from him than you usually would under normal circumstances. Benchmarks can be positive or punitive. Positive benchmarks, though, will be more effective than the punitive ones.

A positive benchmark might look like this: “If you pay the next three invoices COD, we will reinstate your credit terms.”

A punitive benchmark would look like this: “If you fail to pay the next three invoices COD, we will initiate legal proceedings for the past due amount.”

Both situations set up some performance standard for the other party to achieve. Both are clear and both ought to motivate the other party to action. But, as you know the carrot has better results than the stick.


The next time you need to negotiate with someone who has lost your trust, use these steps. By being honest and by setting some benchmarks, you will feel confident that you can negotiate with someone you do not trust, and you will not look like a ‘sucker’ for believing the promises once again. Trust can be negotiated back into a relationship.