Step 3 – Establishing the Six Essential Relationship Principles

When you are in the thick of a strategic negotiation have you ever stopped to think, “Is it fair?” “Is it ethical?” “If we win this deal point, is it sustainable?”

These are not simply “nice” or polite considerations—they are crucial to the Vested WIIFWe (What’s in it for We) mindset and Getting to We negotiation process. Unfortunately, many organizations rush to get the deal done without taking time to establish a foundation of strong social norms based on sound guiding principles.

Companies that embrace the WIIFWe philosophy turn to establishing guiding principles to help them make the correct decisions when potential conflicts or questions like the ones above occur—before they negotiate a single deal point.

Step 3 of the Getting to We process serves this purpose by enabling organizations and individuals involved in the negotiation to agree upon a set of “social norms,” or guiding principles that set basic ground rules for the way the parties will act within their relationship. They then go on to document them and ultimately integrate these positive behaviors into the day-to-day social norms that embody the intent and culture of the relationship.

There are six core “guiding principles” that form the foundational social norms for a productive relationship. While you may add others, these six have a proven track record for building trust – a key goal when creating a highly collaborative relationship.

The Six Guiding Principles

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Autonomy
  3. Honesty
  4. Equity
  5. Loyalty
  6. Integrity

Each is discussed briefly below.


In a collaborative relationship, the parties must first commit to the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity obligates them to make fair and balanced exchanges. If one party accepts a business risk, the other must be prepared to do the same. If one party commits to invest time and money in an important project, the other party must be prepared to reciprocate. They decide what is fair and balanced through the negotiation conversation and by applying the rest of the guiding principles.


Parties must also be committed to the principle of autonomy, meaning they will abstain from using power to promote one party’s self-interest at the expense of the other. At the individual level, autonomy refers to the ability to act based on reasons and motives reflecting the individual’s own values and convictions. The same applies to business relationships. People want to make their own decisions, free from the power of another; they want to work as equals and they want to be part of a process that allows them to make decisions in sync with the group. The specter of bargaining power on the part of one party will cast a shadow over the relationship, without an acknowledgment of autonomy by the parties in the relationship.


A Getting to We relationship simply can’t function without honesty. Honesty is the best policy is as true for collaborative business relationships as it is for personal relationships. Honesty obliges the parties to tell the truth, both about facts in the world and about their intentions and experiences. It follows that individuals and organizations should call out dishonest activity immediately. That’s because if dishonesty—rather than honesty—becomes a social norm in day-to-day business practice, the partnership is in trouble and can’t survive as a Vested enterprise.


The previous guiding principles—reciprocity, autonomy and honesty—are not quite enough for a WIIFWe mindset. The parties in a collaborative relationship must also commit to the principle of loyalty. Loyalty is vital because it requires the parties to be loyal to the relationship. This means that “relationship first” thinking becomes an operating norm when the parties’ interests are treated as equally important. It’s not loyalty simply for the sake of being loyal, the parties must view the relationship as its own entity with its own set of interests, such as lowering costs, supporting innovation, and promoting growth. Loyalty is about loyalty to the relationship as a single entity. For companies and their corporate cultures this can be difficult concept to fully accept because it takes them out of their corporate safety zone and their usual practices.


Businesses and business people tend to view a relationship in “balance sheet” terms: each side should be equal. This is especially true in Western societies where equality is a fundamental social norm. The principle of equity, however, obliges parties to look more critically at the distribution of resources. It might be easy to split things 50-50, but that might not be the fairest approach for the relationship as it moves forward. Equity has two equally important components: proportionality and remedies. Proportionality means one party may get a larger distribution of rewards than the other to compensate that party for taking greater risks or making investments. An equitable remedy allows the parties to come to a fair resolution when the contract itself may otherwise limit the result or be silent on the matter. Equity therefore is important to maintain harmony and trust in a relationship. Equitable decisions prove that a party is trustworthy and trusting at the same time precisely because the decision is not an arbitrary 50-50 split.


Integrity is the final ingredient of a robust relationship. Simply stated, integrity means consistency in decision making and in actions. Integrity is essential to get to the WIIFWe mentality and to remain there. Integrity preserves the relationship because it promotes trust between the parties. And it means that parties are trusting and trustworthy at the same time. To act with integrity is to show trustworthiness, which strengthens the foundation of the relationship. Integrity promotes predictability, since what has happened in the past says something about what can be expected to happen in the future. Integrity thus reduces complexity.

Combined, these six guiding principles form an essential foundation that fosters an environment conducive for a high-performing, collaborative Getting to We relationship. Implement them, and you build trust; violate them, and it is easy to see how distrust can slip into a relationship.

There is much more explanation and analysis of Step 3 in chapter 5 of Getting to We: Negotiating Agreements for Highly Collaborative Relationships, (Jeanette Nyden, Kate Vitasek and David Frydlinger).

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