Master the art of virtual negotiation
Dear Business Professional,
Colin’s story says a lot about how to make the most of online negotiations. Here’s how he tells it:
I pride myself on being prepared. Living in San Francisco, I’m used to earthquakes temporarily disrupting our business affairs. But I never saw COVID-19 coming, and I was floored by the impact it had on my company, my job, and my life.
As the regional sales director of a software company, my job is to launch new products and motivate my team to hit our sales goals. It’s a position that relies heavily on interpersonal connections that are primarily built face-to-face. But when the stay-at-home order was issued, my colleagues and I were forced to retreat to the safety of our residences.
We said goodbye to breakfast meetings, client lunches, and after-work happy hours. Goodbye to handshakes, fist bumps, and pats on the back. Goodbye to the boots-on-the-ground sales game as we knew it, and hello to Zoom calls and text messaging.
To make matters even more difficult, the economy started to trend downwards—and so did the demand for our software. Client sales negotiations were stalling left and right, and my team was looking to me for guidance on how to better navigate our virtual sales pipeline. I had heard good things about the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, so I decided to see if they offered any helpful resources on their website. One of the first search results to pop up was Make the Most of Online Negotiations.
It was free to download, so I decided to give it a read. After skimming the first few pages, I was very glad that I did. In a world where we can’t rely on in-person negotiation and relationship building, I learned that we have to be smarter about how we use electronic communication channels:
- Videoconferencing—Videoconferencing is easily the best substitute for in-person negotiation. To make the most of it, minimize distractions and resist the urge to look at your phone or otherwise multitask.
- Email—Studies have found that negotiations conducted via email tend to result in less satisfying agreements than those that take place in person. However, it does give you more time to carefully craft a compelling message.
- Texting—Lacking visual and vocal cues, texting can often lead to misunderstanding and confusion. But it is a convenient way to share ideas on the fly.
The report emphasized the importance of choosing the right medium for the task at hand. In the early phases of negotiation, phone calls and videoconferencing help build rapport. When talks get more detailed, email can provide much-needed support, and if a sudden brainstorm strikes, a text message may be the perfect solution.
By understanding the nuances of electronic communication, I was able to build stronger virtual relationships with my clients—and share what I learned with my staff. While our sales figures aren’t back to pre-pandemic levels, they’re steadily increasing. My staff feels less anxious and more confident in their ability to navigate socially distant negotiations. And I feel grateful that stumbled upon the Program on Negotiation’s Make the Most of Online Negotiations report.
Colin’s success story is one we’ve heard time and again at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
Negotiation is one of the most complex yet important skills to learn. Even individuals who are “born negotiators” need help navigating online negotiations in this new socially distant business landscape.
In Make the Most of Online Negotiations, you’ll discover bargaining strategies that have been used by many of the world’s most successful leaders. Within the pages of this free report, you’ll learn how to:
- Set realistic ambitions—It might not be the right time to launch complex talks with an unfamiliar partner—consider biding your time until a better opportunity presents itself.
- Toggle between media—Discover how to select the electronic communication method that best matches the task at hand.
- Be patient and adaptable—Strive to be kind to counterparts, who may be dealing with more than you’re aware of away from the virtual negotiating table.
- Stay accessible—When negotiating online, ensure that all relevant parties continue to have opportunities to be heard.
Overcoming the Hidden Pitfalls of Video Conferencing
In a world battling COVID-19, videoconferencing has emerged as the electronic communication medium of choice. However, it has some critical limitations you need to be aware of—and work to overcome:
- Limited visibility—When negotiation counterparts are reduced to “talking heads” on a screen, problems can arise. Compensate by using hand gestures within the frame so they can be seen, minimizing sound and visual distractions, and dressing professionally.
- Technical difficulties—Glitches can interrupt the flow of a negotiation, so be sure to test drive video conferencing apps before important meetings.
- Privacy and security challenges—When privacy of a negotiation is paramount, video conferencing may pose major concerns. In this instance, an in-person negotiation or a phone call may be necessary.
- Is it better to approach job applicants or let them approach you?
- In a sea of strangers, how do you figure out which virtual employees you can trust?
- What is the best way to negotiate with applicants about the price, deliverables, and terms of employment?
- How should you manage your remote employees?
- Start off synchronously. Research shows that negotiators who chat on the phone or communicate through Zoom before e-mailing are much more likely to reach agreement than those who don’t.
- Check your perceptions. If your counterpart’s tone seems hostile or dismissive, pick up the phone and ask for clarification instead of letting the situation spiral out of control.
- Slow down. If you’re tempted to dash off an angry remark, take time to cool off and craft a careful message.
- Improve email’s richness. Reread your message before hitting send, and consider attaching graphs, photos, and other relevant information to improve comprehension.
- Respect your differences. If your counterpart prefers to type but you’d rather talk, try to strike a balance between the two media that allows you both to feel comfortable and understood.
- Resolve disputes among long-distance parties. You may be able to shorten the duration of disputes by using e-mediation because it reduces scheduling difficulties.
- Lessen tensions in emotional disputes. Technology can serve as a buffer and allow for more rational and productive discussions.
- Appeal to tech-savvy employees. Younger workers who have used technology throughout their lives are likely to find e-mediation a comfortable choice.
- Minimize power differences between employees. Research shows that subordinates who mediated a dispute with a superior were significantly more satisfied with technology-supported mediation than with traditional face-to-face mediation.
Building a Better Team Online
Online labor markets are rapidly growing—and changing the way we think about hiring and managing talent. Especially in an era of social distancing, the ability to hire talented staffers from around the world can be incredibly appealing. But how do you effectively navigate the online labor market? In Make the Most of Online Negotiations, you’ll find out the answers to compelling questions like:
Capitalizing on the Unexpected Benefits of Email Negotiations
It’s a fact: E-mail negotiations tend to be more contentious than face-to-face meetings, and the messages conveyed in e-mails are more likely to be misunderstood. That poses a serious problem in our email-dependent society. But there is hope. Learn how to maximize the benefits of email communications in Make the Most of Online Negotiations. In this in-depth, special report, you’ll discover how to refine your email negotiations:
Solving Workplace Conflict with E-Mediation
With more employees working from home than ever before, feelings of stress, isolation, and frustration may trigger more frequent disagreements. But what can you do when you can’t gather your employees around the conference table for an in-person discussion? More employers are turning to e-mediation.
In Make the Most of Online Negotiations, you’ll learn that e-mediation is a voluntary process of resolving disputes with the assistance of a neutral third party and technology such as text messaging or email or Zoom. In fact, early research results suggest that technology-enhanced mediation can be just as effective as traditional mediation.
Is e-mediation right for your company? You may want to consider it if you want to:
It Pays to Be Online Savvy
A recent research study showed that people who are especially comfortable using e-mail achieved significantly more profit, helped to create more joint gain, gains and rated their negotiation experience more positively than those who were less comfortable with the medium. If you want to improve your virtual negotiation comfort level, you simply must read Make the Most of Online Negotiations. Curated from several articles in Harvard’s Negotiation Briefings newsletter, this report contains the insights you need to improve your virtual negotiating skills.
Do you want to excel at socially distant communication? Achieve better outcomes at the virtual bargaining table? And become a world-class online negotiator? Download your complimentary copy of Make the Most of Online Negotiations for the support you need to excel—even in a global pandemic.