Use Collaborative Negotiation to Build Trust at Work

Group of Individuals Working Together at Table

In this article featuring Ivey Academy faculty members Ann Frost, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour, and Fernando Olivera, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour, we explore the concept of Collaborative Negotiation, how it differs from some of our traditional notions of negotiations, and how you can apply it to better manage relationships going forward.


Reimagining Negotiations

In business, and in life, many people see negotiation as a battle of wills. The goal is to dominate the other side in order to get the best possible deal. While a winner-take-all approach may make sense when you need to obtain a clear win or get quick results, in the long-run you may risk losing more than you gain.

Ann Frost, Associate Professor in Organizational Behaviour at the Ivey Business School, explains that a competitive process that yields a winner and a loser reduces the chance for future negotiation. “And most sales relationships are not a one-off deal,” she notes.  

That’s where collaborative negotiation comes in.

A win-win approach to negotiation  

The goal of collaborative negotiation is to build a long-term relationship that is beneficial to both sides.  

“Having a collaborative mindset is about looking for opportunities to do things for others and to welcome the things others can do for us,” says Fernando Olivera, Associate Professor in Organizational Behaviour and Troost Professor in Leadership at the Ivey Business School. “It’s about building healthy relationships that produce value for all parties involved.”

Collaborative negotiation can only happen when everyone is open about their interests, says Olivera. That requires - and builds – trust. When parties are willing to negotiate in good faith, they are more likely to find creative solutions that benefit everyone at the table.

Preparing for collaborative negotiation

All negotiation takes planning, but getting ready for a collaborative negotiation requires looking beyond the handshake.     

“The first thing to think about is the end goal,” says Olivera. “You need to picture the future, post the negotiated agreement.” What would a productive collaborative outcome look like? Once you can answer that question, Olivera says you can begin to identify the things that need to happen in order to achieve the desired result.    

“The second thing is to have clarity on how that future scenario matches your personal objectives. What do you stand to gain by engaging in this collaborative relationship? What does the other side stand to gain?” he asks.

Finally, Olivera says it’s important to consider what could go wrong. “Be sincere and realistic about the hurdles you may face so you are better prepared to tackle them and sustain your collaborative arrangements moving forward,” he says.  

In addition to identifying your goals, Frost says it’s a good idea to consider your relationship with the other party. “Do I have a relationship already? How long have I had it? How long do I envision it continuing? Is it a good relationship, or have I damaged it?” she asks. “Those are some of the dimensions you need to think about before you go into any collaborative negotiation.”

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, she says. “What do they need to get out of any deal? And how can you help them get it?”

Both Frost and Olivera say it is critical to have clarity about when it makes sense to walk away from the negotiating table. “Not all relationships are meant to be partnerships,” Olivera notes. “Recognizing your alternatives is really important. Any agreement needs to meet the minimum requirement of what we expect from a partner for us to want to engage in it.” 

Leading a collaborative negotiation

Unlike a competitive process, where negotiators typically take a cautious approach to revealing information, a collaborative negotiation requires a certain amount of transparency.

If you are part of a larger organization, you may be concerned about disclosing too much. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to consult with your team or manager to identify what can be shared and what should be kept confidential.

If you don’t have an established relationship with the person sitting across the table, Frost suggests taking some time to get to know them before trying to negotiate a deal. “Share where you are at and what the context is,” she says. “Learn about what the other person’s issues are, what their priorities are, and see if there is a way that you can help each other.”  

Be honest about your decision-making power. If your negotiated deal requires approval from others, let your counterpart know.

And always have a Plan B. “Not all negotiations lend themselves to a collaborative approach,” says Olivera. “We need to be comfortable recognizing that sometimes we do need to engage in competitive behaviours in order to resolve conflicts with other parties.”

Negotiating is a life skill that can be learned

Whether your goal is to establish a collaborative conversation, or you feel the need to take a more adversarial approach, negotiation is a skill that can be learned.

“You can become a better negotiator through practice,” says Frost, who notes that although men and women are equally as effective at negotiation, women tend to negotiate one-quarter as often as their male counterparts. “Women need to negotiate more,” she says.

And while building trust and mutual understanding often leads to better business deals, collaborative negotiation can also be used to resolve disputes in the workplace, in social settings, and at home. 

“At the end of the day, what occurs in a collaborative negotiation has to do with listening, with communicating effectively, and with exploring options that benefit both parties,” Olivera says, “and we can all learn how to do those things well.”

Try using collaborative negotiation today

Think of a situation in your life where you are currently experiencing conflict, whether it be a professional or personal relationship.

Consider your own position in this conflict and how it contrasts with that of the opposing party. What do you wish to gain out of conflict resolution and negotiation with the other party? Furthermore, consider: are you sure what the other party is looking to gain?  How can you make sure both of you fully understand each other’s situation and desired outcomes?

Most importantly: how do you wish for your relationship to continue moving forward and how will that affect your approach to this conversation? Keeping in mind your own communication style and that of the other party, develop a plan for how you're going to negotiate a collaborative outcome.

This article was written by Nicole Laidler.
Nicole is a Western University graduate, BA '03, MA Journalism '04, and an award-winning journalist and content creator. To see what else she’s been writing lately visit


Interested in developing your skills in Collaborative Negotiation?

Professors Ann Frost and Fernando Olivera deliver an in-depth and immersive learning experience in the Ivey Collaborative Negotiation Program.


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Associated Faculty

Ann Frost

Ann Frost

Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour

Fernando Olivera

Fernando Olivera

Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour