A Guide to Negotiating Virtually

Online Negotiation

Over time, it’s becoming increasingly common for negotiators to find themselves in fully virtual scenarios. Although the rise of Covid-19 certainly sped up this process, it had actually begun far before the pandemic.

The truth is, virtual methods of deal-making are convenient – and they have been, for quite some time. Whether you’re utilizing video tools, teleconferencing, or even just email, you have everything you need to plan and then successfully negotiate.

However, when you’re negotiating virtually, it’s important not to approach the situation exactly as you would if it were occurring face-to-face. In actuality, the experience of digital negotiation comes with a number of its own unique quirks, which you may not have previously needed to concentrate on.

If you’re looking for evidence of the difference between virtual and face-to-face negotiation, research has actually been done on the topic. For instance: remember that, whilst you’re negotiating virtually, it’s more likely that your counterpart will believe you to be less warm or trustworthy, which can lead to fewer objective results. This is according to a 2005 article published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

Whenever you fail to take this into consideration, it’s possible that your negotiation strategy could backfire on you, and ultimately fail at creating value — even if the same technique would have been perfectly effective, during face-to-face negotiations. Creating trust is a key component of successfully negotiating, and it’s important that you work to create this sort of connection.

Further, you might be tempted to resort to email negotiations, if the discussion is high-conflict. Before taking this route, there are some factors worth considering. Through email, it’s more likely that negotiators will be less cooperative and willing to collaborate. If you or your negotiation partner are unhappy during email negotiations, you’re less likely to tactfully disclose this, or work to compromise — instead, you might feel less inhibited, allowing you to boldly express these negative emotions. The same thing applies to the party you’re negotiating with.

Through email, there’s also a higher risk of miscommunication, compared to if you were negotiating in person. Even if you believe that you’re being clear within your emails, this might not truly be the case. For instance, if you’re looking to interpret your negotiation partner’s emotions through email, you’re going to find it considerably more difficult than if you were directly communicating in person. Whenever emotions are misinterpreted, it’s possible that your attempts at negotiation will fail, especially if your partner believes you to be hostile — whether or not this is the tone you were intending to use.

So, if you’re seeking gains during virtual communications (no matter the form), it’s critical that you appropriately prepare. If you dive in without a plan of action, it’s far more likely that you’ll make avoidable mistakes, when it comes to leading effective virtual negotiations. To thoroughly plan for virtual negotiations, make sure to complete the following steps:

1. Ensure That Everyone in Your Team Has Been Assigned a Role

This is especially relevant if you’re undergoing a video call with more than three parties. The more individuals involved in a digital negotiation, the easier it is for the discussion to grow muddled and be thrown off track. This can be avoided by simply assigning each of your team members a specific role, prior to the start of the call.

For example, determine who you would like to open the discussion, as well as who is tasked with explaining your proposal. Also, you should decide upon which party will answer any questions introduced by your negotiation partner. Whatever roles are necessary to the discussion you’re having, make sure to have someone at the ready, prepared to tackle them.

2. Decide on the Mode of Offline Communications — But Keep It Concise

Not only should you determine a method of chatting with your teammates, but you should also practice using this method before negotiations begin. Try to use a different platform and software to perform offline communications with teammates — if the negotiations are occurring on your computer over Zoom, then consider chatting on your phone, using a different application. However, keep this communication brief. The more you multitask during negotiations, the less professional you’ll seem to your counterparts. You can also expect lower payoffs.

Also, once negotiations begin, keep the following in mind:

  • Connect and spark a more collaborative interaction by opening with small talk.
  • Clarify the purpose of the meeting, including any assumptions or constraints.
  • Consider turning off self-view if you’re worried it might make you feel self-conscious (and thus unfocused).

As virtual negotiations become more common, it’s important that negotiators hone their skills. Remember, negotiating through video call or email doesn’t require the exact same skillset as face-to-face discussions — take these differences into consideration, and then develop your very own virtual negotiation strategy.


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