Successful digital negotiation: Adapt to survive

International best-selling author and negotiation advisor, Jack Nasher is an expert in using psychological concepts to influence negotiations and achieve successful outcomes. In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, he explains that companies and business professionals need to adapt their behaviours in order to succeed in digital negotiations.

The impact on the business environment by Coronavirus has been sudden and dramatic. Businesses and their employees have had to radically change the way they work. For most, that has meant working from home. Gone are the board room meetings, pitches and presentations, replaced by digital forms of communication. It takes getting used to, especially if you’re now working from home instead of the office. Doing it effectively means understanding and leveraging digital decision-making processes to make the transition as seamless as possible, in order to secure the same, if not better outcomes. The perception that communications in the virtual realm are no different to those conducted in physical meeting rooms is wrong, as businesses will soon find out, if they don’t adapt accordingly.

New challenges require fresh thinking

Important negotiations, which formerly took place round a table, in real-life, real-time scenarios, now take place in a digital environment, adding a whole new dimension to how they’re set-up, run and, crucially, how successful they are. Getting the most from them means understanding how technology changes the way we communicate. Businesses must evaluate their operations and implement measures in order to optimise their digital communication strategy. That means addressing three key issues:

  • Understanding the unique challenges the business model faces by increased virtual negotiations.
  • Evaluating and selecting the most effective methods of digital communication for the company’s needs.
  • Examining how staff can adapt their behaviour to achieve the best negotiation outcomes.

Virtual negotiation requires a different approach

When negotiating by phone, email, or even video call, meeting times tend to shorter than meeting in person. You need to get your message across and achieve the best outcome in less time. As a result, the communication becomes less personal and this can have an impact on your ability to influence the course of the negotiation. When you’re in the same room, body language, facial expressions and vocal nuances are more tangible. And these offer real insights that can make a real difference to the success of any negotiation, so parties need to be more conscious of focussing on subliminal signs. Email, in particular, can lead to communication breakdowns, especially if the parties don’t know each other and have never met in person. A study by the University of Illinois found that when participants tried to be funny, cynical or even just friendly, email messages are often misconstrued. During intercultural email exchanges, divergence was even greater.

That’s not to say that email doesn’t have its place, but it should be used for arranging formal meetings, updates, or to send documents. It’s also useful for signing off on negotiations: if you send a PDF attachment stating your position (rather than a Word document)the other party tends to negotiate less, as a PDF is often perceived as a ‘final version’.

Learn to leverage technology to your advantage

The biggest challenge for business negotiations is that someone is more likely to say ‘no’ using a digital communication than during a physical meeting. Indeed, in this age of communication technology, a ‘no’ usually means saying nothing at all. This is why the term ‘ghosting’ has appeared in the modern vernacular. If you really want to convince the other party, use the phone. It’s more difficult to say ‘no’ and they can’t ‘ghost’ you. Saying ‘no’ via email can work in your favour, particularly when you or your staff are dealing with experienced negotiators. When communicating by email, you are less likely to be duped, instead you have time to reflect and say ‘no’ later, if need be. As a rule of thumb, opt for an email negotiation when you know the other party, and/or if the other party is an experienced negotiator.

Businesses may need to supply specialist training to staff, particularly as excellent negotiating skills become more important in times of limited resources. The coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate and negotiate. Organisation and business professionals alike need to review their behaviour and practices to adapt, survive and turn the challenges into advantages.