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Building Relationships through Better Communication

When opposing parties get to the negotiating table, they too often dive into the meat of the deal and begin arguing for their perspective. We see that in how our government operates today and in how people discuss politics, family matters, work challenges, and more. It’s time to STOP, take a step back, and reflect on what’s missing from this equation.

Soon after I left business school, I began working for a negotiation and consulting firm that was an offshoot of the Harvard Negotiation Project. I became an expert in Roger Fisher and Bill Ury’s Getting to Yes negotiation strategy and the7-Elements” approach to conflict resolution.

COMMUNICATION & RELATIONSHIPS: The two elements that let it all happen

Boiled down, the main idea of the 7-Elements of Negotiation is that opposing parties are most likely to discover win-win solutions if they articulate their underlying INTERESTS, discuss a variety of OPTIONS, and talk about what unbiased STANDARDS will help them come to a fair agreement. Only then will they be equipped to make a joint COMMITMENT or independently pursue their ALTERNATIVES. (*Additional details below.)

While those first five elements address the substance of the conversation or agreement, the remaining two address the process: COMMUNICATION and RELATIONSHIPS. As you can tell from the language above, discussing, articulating, and talking about different perspectives is the way to find common ground. Digging in your heals, advocating furiously that you’re right, and not listening to other perspectives do not yield creative, win-win solutions

Without communication and relationships, any attempt to work out challenging problems (at home, at work, or in any organization) and come to an agreement will fall flat. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that we get better at COMMUNICATING and building RELATIONSHIPS.

Building relationships through communication

Communication helps build relationships for several reasons. First, the more you listen, the more you learn about others’ perspectives. Listening thoughtfully, without judgment or interruption, is also a show of caring and respect. With stronger relationships come deeper feelings of trust. Once you have the basis of an honest, trusting relationship, anything is possible — even tackling the most difficult problems and obstacles.

Communication 101: Practice asking questions and actively listening to the answers

The best way to build relationships is to start by asking a question. Set your mind to learning about someone else. In Getting to Yes parlance, experts always suggest that you explore the other side’s interests and perspectives before sharing your own.  Not sure where to start? There are lots of fun tools out there to stimulate conversation.

Easy ways to Start Conversations

Conversation Decks

  • If you want to engage in deeper conversations, you can find Conversation Decks that address dealing with change, feelings, strengths and weaknesses, values, giving feedback, and more.
  • WeConnect cards provide a fast-paced, fun way to move beyond ice-breaking to real connections. The deck of 60 cards includes:
    • 20 green cards with questions that are fun and light
    • 20 blue cards asking questions that are a bit deeper
    • 20 purple cards asking questions that encourage self-reflection.

    The set helps spark conversation and build trust by:

    • Offering a suite of activities to cross-pollinate different departments across your company
    • Arming employees and management with a set of questions to break down communication barriers and management hierarchies
    • Giving employees permission to have fun and be excited about work


Thumballs are soft vinyl balls imprinted with discussion topics. Catch the ball and discuss the prompt under your thumb. Pre-printed topics include Session Openers (for soft-skills training), Getting to Know You, Shaped by Our Past, Leadership, Team Dynamics, Diversity, etc!

Quick Response Answer Boards

When working with a group of people, ask them all the same question and have them write their answer on an Answer Board. Invite everyone to walk around the room and reveal their answers at the same time. Then, ask people to form into groups of 3 or more with different (or similar) answers and discuss their responses.


If you have a small budget, another option is to throw a random collection of knick-knacks in a plastic baggie. Show the baggie to a friend or colleague. Ask each to select an item that represents a past experience, childhood memory, or goal for the future. Alternatively, make up a question prompt or your own.

*The “7 elements” of Negotiation Defined

  1. INTERESTS – each party must articulate its goals and concerns
  2. OPTIONS – together they must freely brainstorm solutions to satisfy those needs
  3. STANDARDS- opposing parties should look for unbiased criteria to evaluate and choose the fairest option
  4. COMMITMENT – once the parties agree on the best way they can work together, they compare that option to what they might achieve unilaterally
  5. ALTERNATIVES – If parties can’t come to agreement, what will they do? What’s their BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement?
  6. COMMUNICATION – the process of discussing the substance of your agreement
  7. RELATIONSHIP – the interpersonal connections and trust that allow you to discuss the substance of the agreement


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