Do you negotiate via text? If you’re a young person early in your career, your answer may be an emphatic yes. If you’re a little older, maybe you answered no. Even so, if you took a closer look at the saved text messages on your smartphone, you might find you’ve recently negotiated the division of chores with a family member, texted with a stranger about the sale of a used car or other item, or messaged a colleague about swapping shifts or responsibilities.
Whether or not we like it, texting is an increasingly common tool for professional negotiators. In a chapter in the book The Negotiator’s Desk Reference, Vol. 2 (DRI Press, 2017), Creighton University professor Noam Ebner encourages professional negotiators to view texting not as a sign of society’s decreased formality and civility but as one of many examples of negotiation techniques that can improve the efficiency and outcomes of negotiations.
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The Hidden Richness of Texting
Texting originated in the instant-messaging programs and chat rooms of the mid-1990s, eventually migrating from computers to mobile phones in the early 2000s. In parts of the world where cellular service is spotty or unavailable, Internet-based messaging apps such as WhatsApp are replacing SMS (short message service) messages as the main form of text communication, writes Ebner.
Like e-mails, texts lack the visual and vocal cues of other communication modes, such as in-person meetings and phone calls. When we don’t have body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and other cues to rely on to help us “read” others, we can have trouble building rapport, and misunderstandings and conflict can become more likely.
Texts also tend to be a highly informal means of communicating. The hassle of typing on a small screen and potential for errors encourage succinct messages that lack the conventions of e-mails and other written correspondence, including salutations and sign-offs. As a result, texts seem abrupt and impolite to some.
Yet texting can be an effective negotiation tool for professional negotiators. It offers the ability to reach out instantaneously across the miles regarding logistics, ideas, or offers when a phone call might be impossible or disruptive. People who are shy or conflict averse may find they can assert themselves better in texts than in person. And young people, who tend to text frequently, report feeling more comfortable expressing their emotions through texts as compared to other media, research by Jennifer Crosswhite of the National Council on Family Relations and her colleagues shows. Texting also allows for both fast and slow communication: We can carry out a text conversation synchronously, like a phone call, or take time to think between messages.
Integrating Texts into Your Negotiations
It’s usually wise for professional negotiators to launch talks with one or more face-to-face meetings. Or you might start with phone calls or videoconferences before adding texts and e-mails to the mix, as visual and vocal cues will enhance rapport right from the start. If you feel like texting, the following three guidelines from Ebner will help improve your negotiation skills and strategies via text:
- Proofread your messages. One advantage of texting—the ability to dash off messages on the run—results in one of its frequent pitfalls: misspellings and embarrassing autocorrect errors. Before hitting “send,” make it a policy to review every message for mistakes and to double-check that it’s going to the right person.
- Don’t take offense. Text abbreviations (LOL, SMH, BRB, etc.), emojis, incomplete sentences, and slang can leave older professional negotiators, in particular, wondering what the business world is coming to. Ebner’s advice: “Do not infer disrespect, inappropriateness, unprofessional behavior, or uncouth behavior” from a counterpart’s informal texts. If you’re uncomfortable with certain conventions of texting, address the issue directly or ask to combine texting with other negotiation tools and techniques.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. A similar guideline applies to long delays between text messages and messages that seem curt. Rather than taking offense, consider that your counterpart may be typing under the table at a meeting or unable to text at all. You might avoid the negativity that can be triggered by aspects of texting by agreeing with your counterpart to let each other know when you need some time to respond at length.
Do you believe professional negotiators should add texting to their toolbox of business negotiation strategies? Why or why not?