By Jeremy Cassell
Negotiating face-to-face may not be practical for many months to come, so how do you negotiate a variety of situations successfully? Here are some of my top tips to negotiate successfully online.
First things first, though—let’s agree on a definition of negotiation so that we all start off on the same footing. A negotiation is a discussion between two or more parties, which starts with a position of non-agreement. It is a process whereby interested parties resolve disputes, agree upon courses of action, bargain for individual or collective advantage, and/or attempt to craft outcomes which serve their mutual interests.
The art of negotiation is a critical skill in business and will serve you well throughout your career. Whether this means getting better deals for your clients or negotiating a higher salary, negotiation is everywhere.
Yet, many business people struggle with negotiation for a number of reasons: lack of confidence, lack of clarity about what they want, or simply they do not know the basics of negotiation.
The good news is it can be taught. These are the qualities that make a great negotiator:
- They have identified what they want.
- They put themselves in the other parties’ shoes.
- They will prepare a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement).
- They identify an optimum position and a fallback position.
- They understand that you need to distinguish between positions versus interests. Interests are the drivers of all parties in a negotiation.
- They ask the right questions.
- They separate the person from the problem and avoid getting emotionally drawn in.
- Ultimately, they are prepared, have researched thoroughly, and considered the negotiation from all angles.
As you can see, none of these qualities are ones you have to be born with. Anyone can learn to be an exceptional negotiator. With this in mind, here are my top tips for negotiating successfully online. Whether you are a seasoned negotiation pro or new to the art, this advice should help you transition to the new normal with confidence.
1. Use your camera, not just the audio
It’s tempting to keep the camera off, especially if you haven’t had time to make your top half look businesslike. However, I encourage you to switch it on in order to facilitate a connection with the other parties.
Turning on the camera gives you access to extra information: How is the other party presenting themselves on camera? Are they close to the lens or further away? Do they use hand gestures? These are things you can subtly copy to help build rapport.
2. Match their email’s tone
In real-life scenarios you might find yourself mirroring a speaker’s body language to put them at ease. In the virtual world it’s not always possible to negotiate over a call. So a virtual equivalent of the mirroring technique would be to match a person’s email tone. Is their email long? Short? Informal? Formal? Resist your usual email template to copy theirs.
3. Avoid email when resolving conflict
Having said how to set the tone of your emails, try to avoid email when resolving conflict. It’s all too easy for tone to be misinterpreted. Arrange for a video conference call instead, as soon as is practicable. Don’t fall in the trap of avoiding a difficult conversation.
4. Summarize frequently
Attention spans are shorter in video calls. Many things can distract people during a negotiation—from email or Slack notifications popping up on screen to the lure of social media and home distractions. It’s, therefore, a good idea to frequently summarize your discussion as it progresses to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
5. Lobby in advance
Give yourself every chance of success by “pre-suading” and lobbying in advance. One great resource to draw inspiration from is Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, and his follow-up book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.
Dubbed the godfather of influence, Cialdini offers practical advice that will help you master his six key principles of successful influencing, as well as how to persuade parties to come to an agreement before negotiations have even begun.
6. Favor shorter meetings
A long drawn out negotiation is painful enough in real life, and quickly becomes unbearable online if it drags on for more than half an hour. Take this into consideration in your planning and encourage multiple short meetings over one mammoth one. This will work to your advantage.
Other Articles From AllBusiness.com:
7. Allocate more time to research and preparation
Preparation is key to all negotiations, whether online or in-person. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for a negotiation:
- Gather knowledge about the case and the client.
- Decide agenda and objectives.
- Allocate roles if negotiating with a colleague.
- Speak to the client and find out the negotiation parameters and fallbacks.
- Consider leverage and BATNA.
- Identify interests–yours and theirs.
- Identify optimum and fallback for all parties of key priority negotiation points.
- Brainstorm; generate options.
8. Agree on the rules early on
It’s important to manage expectations from the start. Before the negotiations start, all parties should agree on the rules of engagement. Write them down and share them with all parties before subsequent meetings so they stay fresh in everyone’s mind.
9. Make use of technology tools
Negotiating online can be an advantage rather than a hindrance. Use your platform to further inform and engage everyone during the process. For example, use the breakout rooms for confidential discussions, or use polls to vote or gauge where everyone stands.
10. Keep a positive mindset
Virtual or not, a positive mindset is key to a successful outcome. Work towards a win-win for all parties and be open to extending your own comfort zone. If you do not do this, others will exploit your comfort zone preference.
11. Use silence
Finally, and most important, don’t be afraid of silence. It’s tempting to fill virtual calls with talk, but this puts you in a weaker negotiating position. Instead, listen actively, speak less, and let other parties fill the silences instead of jumping in.
Bonus: Key questions to ask during a virtual negotiation
Ask these questions:
- What would be a win for you as a result of our virtual conference call?
- What do we need to focus on, in order to get agreement?
- What are the reasons for adopting that position?
- Why is that so important to you/your client? On a scale of 1-10 . . ?
- From your perspective, what is driving that?
- What other options might work for you?
- Is there any reason you can’t?
- What seems fair and reasonable to you?
- What evidence do you have that this is the best option right now?
- How do you feel about including this element in the final document?
- Which parts of my proposal sound sensible?
- What would have to happen for us to get agreement quickly?
Avoid landmine questions:
- Do you really think my client will accept this?
- Are you now not going to agree to this?
- Do you honestly expect me to believe this?
- Don’t you see—you are just wrong?