Labour leader Jacinda Ardern believes she has the edge over National in terms of a relationship with NZ First and will deploy Northland-based deputy Kelvin Davis in negotiations with leader Winston Peters, saying trust and respect was critical for a stable coalition government.
Ardern has confirmed Labour's talks with NZ First and the Green Party will be led by herself and Davis but is yet to name her full negotiating team.
It is also likely to include former MPs who worked with Peters in the last Labour government, such as Sir Michael Cullen.
National's Steven Joyce said policy concessions rather than personalities would secure a coalition, but Ardern believed a relationship was important.
She said she respected and trusted Peters and could offer "a good working relationship with our senior MPs".
Ardern has ordered her front bench MPs to look at how Labour's policies match up with NZ First's and the Greens', saying although serious negotiations might not happen until after the special votes are counted, all parties need to be prepared to try to deliver New Zealand with a new government quickly.
Asked if she would tolerate any attempt by Peters to cut out the Green Party, Ardern gave an ambiguous answer: "I think we need to go into these negotiations accepting they carry, at the moment, 6 per cent of the vote.
"They are bringing that vote to the table and it needs to be respected."
Ardern said she had already met Greens leader James Shaw about the process but was yet to speak directly with Peters.
On Monday her chief of staff Neale Jones contacted Peters' office to advise she was ready and willing to meet. She did not know when that might be. Peters will meet his caucus in Wellington today.
"I think it would be prudent of all the political parties to go and do the preparatory work because we are working to quite a tight timeline, but I fully expect we won't have anything finalised until we have those special votes in."
As fellow Northland-based MPs, Davis and Peters bump into each other a lot and Davis says although they are not close personal friends they get on well. Peters had endorsed Davis over Mana leader Hone Harawira in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate in 2014, although that was largely because of his objections to Harawira's alliance with Internet Party leader Kim Dotcom.
Davis is close friends with NZ First's Shane Jones - a friendship that dates back to Jones' time in the Labour Party. Jones recruited Davis to stand for the Labour Party in about 2007. Jones will return to Parliament on NZ First's list.
Asked if he was willing to give up a deputy Prime Minister role for a coalition partner, Davis said his priority was getting Ardern into the Prime Minister's role.
"If it has to be, it has to be."
National's team will include English, Gerry Brownlee and Todd McClay, who took Peters with him on a trade trip to Europe this year.
Peters labelled English's summation of the New Zealand First leader as a maverick as "not a very smart thing to say".
English said he wasn't worried about that reaction.
"I've known Winston Peters a long time. In fact, 27 years we have been in Parliament together - longer than pretty much anyone else in the building. There's a lot of political pushing and shoving."
Joyce, who is expected to be closely involved, described his role as "making the tea". He said he got on fairly well with Peters, despite reports to the contrary.
National's deputy leader, Paula Bennett, is not expected to be on the negotiating team for National. Bennett said it would not bother her giving up the role of deputy Prime Minister to make way for NZ First.
She denied that her exclusion from the negotiating team was because of any suspicion she was involved in the leak of Peters' superannuation payment details, saying it was simply because she did not really know him well.