In recent years, more and more negotiation has moved online and sometimes it is impossible to avoid. But the research clearly shows that email negotiations are much more likely to fail than face-to-face.
And I am talking about negotiation in its broadest sense, of course, so that is any form of remote collaboration.
In a previous post, we saw the 8 main problems that email negotiators have to resolve if they want their negotiation to go well. And in this post, we are going to look at the best strategy to use when negotiating or collaborating online, a strategy that resolves the issues we mentioned in the previous post, a strategy that works.
THE BLENDED APPROACH
And it turns out that the best approach is a blended approach. Each of the different channels have got their own advantages and disadvantages and you want to be aware of them and use them consciously and appropriately to best leverage the attributes of each channel. We’re talking about face to face, video conferencing, phone and email. There are other channels, but broadly speaking, we’re going to focus on these. I don’t recommend negotiating via Twitter as a rule, let alone Tik-Tok!
If it is at all possible then, generally, face to face is better. Human beings are pack animals and there is something very primal about meeting somebody in terms of building trust. So use that. Use that opportunity to build rapport, build trust. Have a bit of informal chit-chat at the beginning.
Also use it for the richness of the communication that is available because you can see them. Ask lots of questions and then listen to the answers. They should be doing more talking than you. Check for the nonverbals, the facial expression, the body language. Tune into the tonality as they’re talking, the different emphasis; really check the nuance and then ask more questions to clarify.
These are things that you can do more in a face to face context or a verbal context than you can in a written context. They will give you tremendous information that you can use to reach your outcome but also the simple proximity will build trust and enable a much better deal and work relationship in general.
Ideally, you should meet very early on. I once worked with a team of lawyers who had been working for several months on a large acquisition and they were excited because they were about to complete the transaction and they would finally get to meet their client in person. It should be the other way round, you should meet the other party first. This builds a better team spirit of all of us working together on the same issue. Then, after that, you don’t have to meet so often because that connection has already been set up.
Now each channel has its drawbacks too and face-to-face is typically much less convenient and sometimes logistically impossible.
So video conferencing is the next-best alternative. The advantage of video conferencing over and above face to face is that you can work at a distance so you can have the Chinese person and the New York person and the South African all in the same place at the same time. You can see their face, which is great. You can have a vocal conversation to ask lots of questions in real time, all of which is good.
And, interestingly, with people working from home, this is quite a personal thing, quite an intimate thing; maybe their child crawls into the room behind them or the cat walks across the keyboard. So this can be very powerful.
So, start either with a face to face or if that’s not possible video conference. And failing that, use the telephone.
Experiments have shown that email negotiations that start with a phone call go much better than those that don’t. And those that start with a face-to-face meeting go much better still. And you can use these preliminary meetings to plan how you’re going to conduct the process of the rest of the negotiation: when you’re going to phone, when you’re going to email, when you’re going to have another meeting, and other aspects.
But the point being you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each channel and then you can consciously choose which channel to use at any given point.
USING EMAIL FOR NEGOTIATION
So in negotiation, use email for transmitting clear factual information and raw data, especially when you have a lot of it to get across. Leverage its multimedia element, for example, a slide deck or an image or graph or table of data.
It can be useful if you need to ask sensitive questions that might be tricky in real life. Sometimes those kinds of questions are asked easier over the phone or face to face but sometimes you might find it easier to wordsmith it on the email, it is up to you.
Use it too when you want an audit trail. Take your time to respond. Use the time to prepare your response and wordsmith it as well as you can and make it as compelling as you can.
And lastly use it when the logistics of organising a meeting or a conference call is not worth the effort. If it’s just a short question that needs to be answered, a quick email would obviously be the best strategy.
Now, it is easy to default to email because it is by far and away the most convenient channel to use. But always bear in mind its pitfalls and the fact that email negotiations are simply more likely to go wrong and consciously weigh up, would this be better conducted on the phone or video-conference or face-to-face. A calculated choice rather than simply emailing because you always email will get you much better results.
So, know which channel to use and when but there is more to it than that.
There are still lots of ways we can undermine our negotiations using email and I’m going to post another short presentation on how we can avoid doing this so that our online negotiations and collaborations go as well as they can.
So do look out for those and in the meantime if you have any questions or comments drop me a line at Negotiation Mastery.