Written by Marijn Overvest | Reviewed by Sjoerd Goedhart | Fact Checked by Ruud Emonds | Our editorial policy

Forked-Tail Effect — Regaining Trust in Negotiation

Key takeaways

  • The forked-tail effect is a cognitive bias that causes your perception of another person to be influenced by a single negative trait.
  • Every negotiating process is built on trust, but once broken, it needs to be re-established through a different procedure.
  • Many factors could lead to distrust during negotiations, and all of them can be utilized in the forked-tail effect.

There are various forms of negotiation like Avoidance Negotiation, Logrolling Negotiation, and many more! However, for this article, we’ll be talking about the Forked-Tail Effect.

For this article, we will discuss what the forked-tail effect is. We will explain how it can affect the trust of people in you in negotiation. Additionally, we will tell you some tips that will help you gain and repair the trust of other people. 

Once you are finished reading this article, you will have a deeper understanding of how trust can impact your negotiation. Thus, creating a stronger relationship with the other party in the negotiation. 

Defining Forked-tail Effect in Negotiation

At some time in your life, this has probably been done to you or you have done it to others. The forked-tail effect is a cognitive bias that causes your perception of another person to be influenced by a single negative trait. 

An example of the forked-tail effect is when person A gets mad at person B due to a heated argument. Person B may now think of person A as someone who gets mad easily. Thus, person B will presumably think that person A is a horrible person due to what person A exhibited in their heated argument. 

The forked-tail effect can heavily influence the negotiation. Once a person has seen an undesirable characteristic in you, he or she might not want to go on with the negotiation as he or she may deem you worthy to work with due to your negative trait. 

This effect is very dangerous as this bias causes the other person to identify you solely with just one negative trait. The worst thing that may happen is that the other person may tell this to his or her connections. Thus, you will have a hard time regaining your reputation due to the forked-tail effect. 

Importance of Trust in Negotiation

Trust is crucial in negotiation due to the fact that you cannot reach an agreement if you can never trust the other party. Additionally, when trust is at the center of the relationship and negotiation, mutual gains are easier to achieve. 

When you let trust become the pillar of the negotiation process, the outcomes of both parties are improved. This is due to the mutual understanding that allows the parties in negotiation to find solutions that benefit both sides. 

Building trust requires a lot of time, especially at the start of a new business partnership. To foster trust, the other party must see the credibility of your actions. Do not promise anything in the negotiation if you cannot attain it. By doing so, you are putting yourself at risk of losing their trust. 

Trust may be hard to build. But once you gain the trust of the other party, you can use it to become a key source of competitive advantage. 

Causes of Distrust in Negotiation

Trust is very hard to create but easy to break in negotiation. This is the reason why you should avoid breaking it as it is crucial for you to reach an agreement in negotiation.

Here are some causes of distrust in negotiation:

1. Miscommunication

Failure to communicate what you want in the negotiation can result in the other party inferring it the other way. They may understand your desired outcomes to be one-sided if you poorly communicate what you want. Thus, miscommunication leads to distrust. 

2. Prioritizing Your Interest at the Expense of Others

The act of maximizing your interest at the expense of the other party can break their trust. Of course, who would want to negotiate with someone who does not value the interest of the other party in the negotiation?

No one at the negotiation table would want to get the short end of the stick. Thus, it is likely that they do not want to negotiate with you even in the future as they have lost their trust in you. 

3. The Credibility of your Actions

As the old proverb says, “actions speak louder than words”. You should not say or promise something that you cannot do, especially in the negotiation. 

If you have promised that you can deliver the goods at their preferred time, then you must do it. Breaking your promises will tear apart the trust you built in the negotiation. 

4. Bad Reputation

Just like what we said, the forked-tail effect can be very dangerous as this bias can linger in the mind of the other party for many years and worse, for the rest of their life. 

No one would like to associate themselves with someone who has a bad reputation. Additionally, it is much harder to trust someone who had a bad reputation from the start. 

Thus, it is important for you to regain your reputation by sticking to your words and doing your best to make them see your good traits in the negotiation. 

5. Overusing Tactics

Negotiation tactics are very helpful in negotiation. However, overdoing it may create breaks to the trust of the other party in the negotiation. Frequent surprise attacks, deadlines, and bluffing may be detrimental if you keep using them on the other party. 

How to Regain a Broken Trust

Regaining one’s trust is not easy, but it is worth working hard and fighting for. Once you are able to determine what caused the distrust, here are a 4-step process to regain a broken trust:

1. Arrange a personal meeting

In regaining trust, you must try to arrange a personal meeting so that you can discuss the conflict and any surrounding issues in the negotiation. This will enable you to identify the point of contention. Thus, you will have a better understanding of how to fix it. 

2. Apologize

Of course, if you have broken someone’s trust, you should sincerely apologize. Taking responsibility for what transpired is important to disarm conflict. Additionally, this will make the other party feel that they are important as it takes a lot of bravery to apologize. 

3. Let them have time to think

Once you have apologized, let them have time to think of what they should do with the issues revolving around the negotiation. You should also let them vent or express their discontent with your actions. 

Being defensive will just make the situation worse. At this point, you should test your understanding and ask for clarifying information about the negotiation. 

4. Formulate a solution

After you have asked for clarifications, you can begin to create a plan together with the other party to address inequalities in the negotiation or concerns about the relationship. You should be ready as this may include reparations to make up for the losses of the other party. 


The forked-tail effect is basically just assuming a trait on someone based on a reaction. For example, Person X gets sad because of what Person Y did. Then, Person Y will now assume that Person X is a crybaby due to its reaction. Thus, this can be deemed as very dangerous since it can heavily influence the negotiation with just a single negative trait.

In addition, it is important to build trust and let it become the pillar of the negotiation process. In turn, this develops a mutual understanding between the two parties and finds solutions that can benefit both sides.

However, building trust is not so easy as there are many causes of distrust in negotiation. Nonetheless, broken trust can be regained. Thus, you are able to strengthen relationships again and ensure an optimal procurement and supply chain processes.

Frequentlyasked questions

What is the forked-tail effect?

It is a cognitive bias that causes your perception of another person to be influenced by a single negative trait.

What is negotiation?

Negotiation refers to the approach of two parties seeking to reach a concession by finding an acceptable solution for both of them.

Why is trust important in negotiation?

Trust is important as it will be easier to achieve mutual gains in the negotiation.

About the author

My name is Marijn Overvest, I’m the founder of Procurement Tactics. I have a deep passion for procurement, and I’ve upskilled over 200 procurement teams from all over the world. When I’m not working, I love running and cycling.

Marijn Overvest Procurement Tactics