Best practice for negotiating remotely

Best Practice for Negotiating Remotely – How can we take advantage of the new normal?

With the reinstatement of lockdowns and travel restrictions, the new normal is about doing business remotely, and this applies more than ever to negotiating. Whereas, previously, key negotiations would have been conducted face-to-face, remote negotiation is now the norm.

It remains true that in business “you don’t get what you deserve… you get what you negotiate”, so it is absolutely essential that businesses become excellent, not just at negotiation but specifically in remote negotiation.

In the current world, more and more negotiation will be executed through email, online video (MS Teams, Zoom etc.) and online apps. As such, it has become fundamentally important to be able to gain advantage from using these tools.

The challenges of negotiating remotely

According to research, remote negotiations result in poorer outcomes than face-to-face negotiations:

  • Firstly, face-to-face negotiations are less hostile and result in better outcomes (more profit) than virtual negotiations [1].
  • Secondly, online negotiations achieve lower levels of post-negotiation trust [2].

As a result, skilled negotiators must compensate for these challenges to succeed.

Email negotiation brings a high risk of misunderstanding and difficultly to conclude…

It is possible to negotiate using only words. After all, this is the basis of most legal agreements. However, executing a negotiation process through only email has some significant downsides:

  • With email negotiation it is easier to express complaints and negativity, people tend to be less co-operative.
  • We lack visual, verbal, and other sensory cues to interpret how our counterpart is feeling and therefore, there is a high risk of misunderstanding … we interpret written messages very differently.
  • Egocentricity is a major issue; we overestimate how well our messages are understood by the recipient and we “hear” responding statements very differently.
  • Written negotiation is also asynchronous; we can wait days or even weeks before responding, so email negotiations are not time-bound and it is hard to get email negotiation to an agreement.
  • It is not easy to drive to a deadline which limits ability to reach agreement.
  • Finally, it is difficult to find mutual advantages; a major negative is the inability to explore creative options through email.
BEST PRACTICE FOR EMAIL NEGOTIATION
Make a personal connection before moving to email… phone or video connection first achieves a much higher chance of agreement
Make sure communication is considered, precise and error free. The words really matter!
Improve richness if possible… photos, drawings, diagrams
Use email to set initial aspirations and position, in writing. Recognise you may need to move to face-to-face later
Do not assume your counterpart will ‘read between the lines’ so make communication crystal clear. For example, “Is this the best you can do?” can be interpreted in many different ways
Slow down… sleep on it before responding and take time to craft a considered response
State emotions specifically e.g: “I’m feeling impatient about progress”
Sense check. e.g: “I sense that my last proposal upset you. Is that right?”
…pick up the phone!

Zoom and Teams video negotiation – better than email but lacking trust

Online video negotiation is undoubtably an improvement on email but has some significant challenges.  As with phone negotiation there is limited emotional connection. If you think about your recent zooms and teams calls, you may notice that there is very little “small talk” compared to face-to-face.

Technically, there are some downsides. Eye-contact does not happen because of camera positions, which is a key factor in face-to-face interaction. Calls can be recorded, and the fear of recording limits open behaviours. There is an inherent risk of technical mistakes (for example a private chat going public) and, although much improved over recent years it can be challenging with glitches, gaps, and time-lags.

Successful negotiators use a wide range of non-verbal communication. These are constrained through screen-to-screen time. The smaller the screen, the less effective – more visual communication is better.

From a tactical perspective, one of the most significant negatives is that video negotiation removes any home advantage. Just like sport, in negotiation, home advantage is one of the most important success factors and will be used to the advantage of skilled negotiators.

Finally, but significantly, online negotiation achieves lower levels of post-negotiation trust. Whilst an agreement may have been made, it lacks the trust of a face-to-face conclusion. It may sound insignificant but looking someone in the eye and shaking hands when concluding a deal has always been important in business, and will remain so in the future, despite pandemic constraints. This means that more intensive effort will be required to ensure that any implementation is successful.

BEST PRACTICE FOR TEAMS/ZOOM NEGOTIATION
Plan as you would for a face-to-face. Roles, Communications, Messages, Opening, Closing, Notes etc
Clarify constraints… and time boundaries
To communicate between team-mates… use a different platform… and keep it brief
The bigger the screen the better
Self-view… two schools of thought:

  1. Seeing yourself during a video calls tends to increase self-consciousness and self-criticism… so turn it off!
  2. Seeing yourself during a negotiation can help you maintain your poker face… so turn it on!
Minimise sound and visual distractions
Position for power… neutral or plain background
Position for power… dress professionally!
Avoid ‘talking-heads’ position… use hand gestures within the screen
Use, and accentuate, body language
100% focus… avoid distractions

Small talk, big value

If there is one thing to take forward immediately; research shows that small talk for a few minutes before negotiating achieved better financial and social outcomes than those who began negotiating immediately.

More and more importantly… in a quarantined world, the effect of a personal connection has a big influence on what follows.

 

References:

[1] Stuhlmacher, A.F., Citera, M. Hostile Behavior and Profit in Virtual Negotiation: a Meta-Analysis. J Bus Psychol 20, 69–93 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-005-6984-y

[2] Naquin, C. E., & Paulson, G. D. (2003). Online bargaining and interpersonal trust. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(1), 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.88.1.113

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