Communicating Effectively in Online Negotiation
Ask any seasoned negotiator and the majority will say that face-to-face negotiation is best, but rapid developments in technology, environmental awareness and financial pressure are all paving the way for an increase in virtual negotiations.
Can we capitalise on our existing negotiation skills to make negotiating virtually both practical and successful? The short answer is “yes” and in this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on how to negotiate online effectively.
Can I Negotiate Online?
Although long in existence, Covid-19 and its plethora of social distancing rules really accelerated the adoption of video conferencing and collaboration technology. Not only can you negotiate online and do it well, but since the pandemic, it’s become part of business as usual.
The challenge with negotiating virtually is that many of the communication strategies that you traditionally rely on, such as body language and physical presentation, fly out the digital window. However, to be a great negotiator, you need to know how to negotiate online well.
Choosing the Right Online Platform for Negotiation
For the best outcome, you’ll need to choose the right online platform for each stage of virtual negotiation:
- Videoconferencing is the most direct substitute for face-to-face negotiation. It allows you to observe cues, indulge in small talk and build rapport. It’s well-suited to the early stages when you’re still getting to know one another.
- E-mail is an effective supporting tool that enables you to send and receive detailed information, such as proposals and contracts.
- Texts and web chats can open up real-time communication and collaboration on the go.
Preparation for Successful Online Negotiation
The core of any successful negotiation is preparation, and the same is true of virtual negotiations. Additionally, many of your strengths are easily transferable.
Adopt good meeting practices, as you would for any face-to-face meeting. Preparing an agenda, objectives, and timings in advance puts you in control. It also shows your counterparts that you value their time and are engaged.
Technology is often our primary concern when we consider how to negotiate online. There’s nothing worse than starting a meeting flustered because your video conferencing software is updating, or your Bluetooth headset has died. Avoid this, by setting up any necessary devices beforehand whenever negotiating virtually.
Turn the virtual negotiation table to your advantage by utilising the technology at your fingertips. Install a second screen so that you have your supporting data, key questions, or script on-screen throughout the meeting. Use keyboard shortcuts to efficiently take screen captures of important information – you’ll be less reliant on your counterpart to send documents over later.
Finally, apply common sense to your virtual negotiations – keep your workspace professional and tidy, don’t play with your phone during the session, and remove any potential distractions such as alarms or incoming e-mails.
Navigating Cross-Cultural Differences in Online Negotiation
Cross-cultural differences can be confusing during in-person negotiations and doubly so in a virtual negotiation, as you may only have the words in an e-mail to go on, which can be misconstrued. E-mails and texts lack the human touch that allows you to build a connection with your counterpart.
In these situations, having strong telephone negotiation skills can pay dividends. Picking up the phone to speak with your counterpart can save you both time and money. On a call, you’ll have a better chance of picking up subtleties in tone and inflection, which don’t always translate over e-mail.
Video conferencing reduces us to mere “talking heads” when negotiating virtually, which can make it difficult to spot nuances in body language. Compensate with in-shot hand gestures and facial expressions to support your messaging.
Applying Negotiation Skills to Virtual Settings
Everything you’ve ever learnt through business negotiation training can work when negotiating virtually, so you’re not starting from scratch. Regardless of the delivery method, effective negotiators share common strengths:
- Interpersonal skills.
- Attention to detail.
- Listening skills.
You may have to work harder to demonstrate that you’re open, positive, and trustworthy, but it can be done.
Post-Negotiation Best Practices:
It’s imperative to follow up with your counterpart and continue nurturing the relationship you’ve worked so hard to establish.
A follow-up e-mail summarising the negotiation outcomes serves two purposes. Firstly, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to negotiate online more successfully. Secondly, it can help to solidify your relationship with your counterpart or client, helping to remind them why they chose you.
The major advantage of face-to-face over virtual negotiations is the personal touch. Whether you talk about sports, the weather, or kids, finding common ground humanises you – a fact that is sometimes forgotten during remote negotiations. A simple follow-up call can remedy the situation in next to no time.
Leveraging Technology for Ongoing Collaboration
While Covid pushed even the technophobes among us to embrace virtual and telephone negotiation skills, there’s no doubt that technology is a real asset to the negotiator’s toolkit:
- Cloud-based systems have made it easier than ever to collaborate. Today, contract drafts can be edited in real-time, even during a video call, if you so choose.
- Instant messaging apps have virtually eliminated the age-old game of telephone tag, so you can share ideas quickly.
While many of us still favour face-to-face negotiations, it’s clear that online negotiation has its place and with a little effort, we can adapt our negotiation skills to work in the virtual world.