Negotiating Online? Meet Face to Face First

By — on / Business Negotiations, Daily

Adapted from “How to Negotiate Successfully Online,” by Kathleen L. McGinn (professor, Harvard Business School) and Eric J. Wilson (Cogos Consulting), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

The intricacies of electronic negotiation can be dizzying. You’re likely to find yourself communicating with numerous people you’ve never met about issues you each value differently, and you all have different demands on your time. It’s not surprising, then, that online negotiations typically open with an initial frenzy of activity, followed by a period of collective confusion.

The ideal solution? Bring everyone together for an initial face-to-face meeting. In doing so, you’ll build a foundation of social awareness for negotiators to expand upon once they’re back at their computers. When travel costs prevent a group meeting, a carefully facilitated conference call is the next best option. In this case, all participants should have the chance to introduce themselves and air their concerns. Not only will everyone become acquainted with one another and with the issues being negotiated, but they’ll also set up organizational goals and norms for online interactions.

One project manager faced the challenge of coordinating a product development effort among a team scattered in Paris, Tampa, and Dallas. Since the team members had never worked together before, the manager insisted upon holding a face-to-face meeting before moving online.

“It wasn’t easy because everyone just wanted to get going,” the manager says. “But we made sure that everyone was clear on who the team members were—their background, experience, and responsibilities.” During the meeting, the team leader stressed the importance of open, transparent, and professional online communication. “Only after everyone was onboard did I feel comfortable leaving it to them to negotiate how they were going to build the product.” The strategy paid off: the online negotiations that followed were ultimately successful.

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