Thursday, 22 October 2015

Negotiating by Telephone & Email - The Challenges and Practical Solutions

Increasingly negotiations are taking place through channels other than face-to-face meetings.  Sometimes certain sections or parts of the negotiation will take place via telephone or email and in some cases the entire negotiation will take place in this way.
In addition to the telephone and email you may also find other medium being used such as VOIP, video conferencing, conference calls, Webex or instant messaging services.  This post will largely focus on the two most common channels – telephone and email as the principles can then be applied to the other medium.
The communication channel through which the negotiation is conducted will affect to a greater or lesser degree the dynamics of the interaction, the quality of the communication, the degree of trust developed, the amount of co-operation or non-cooperation, the amount of information shared, the degree of clarity each party has, the motivation and therefore the outcome.
This post is based upon some of the latest research that has been conducted into negotiating via telephone and email vs. negotiating face-to-face.
In the modern commercial world negotiating in this manner is likely to be unavoidable.  The wise negotiator will realise that negotiating in this way is different and will adapt their behaviour accordingly to maximise their effectiveness.
“The communication channel through which negotiations are conduced is neither passive nor neutral.  Any communication medium influences both ends of the communication loop, affecting what information negotiators share and how that information is conveyed, as well as how that information is received and interpreted. 
These effects are called ‘media effects’.“
Noam Ebner
Assistant Professor
Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution
The communication challenge
Any time you are talking with someone, whether you’re chatting about what you did at the weekend or negotiating an important deal, you and the other person are receiving a lot of non-verbal information or “contextual cues”.  These cues give the words that are spoken appropriate meaning.  Research shows that words make up 30% or less of communication – the other 70% consists of non-verbal cues.
We rely heavily on body language such as gestures, posture, facial expressions and tone of voice to give context to the words that we hear.
Face-to-face communication is a “rich” medium as all of the contextual cues, from which a significant proportion of the meaning of a particular communication is derived are present.
If we are communicating (or in this case negotiating) over the telephone then we have lost all of the visual context cues, and in the case of email the verbal context cues are absent also.
Therefore as negotiators we have to be very careful when negotiating in a “leaner” medium such as over the telephone and particularly careful when negotiating with the “leanest” medium of all – email.
Psychologists Nicholas Epley and Justin Kruger Research conducted research
comparing email communication to voice communication.  They created word-for-word content in verbal and email messages.  They found that people communicating via email believe that they understood the correct tone – but they did not.  “People in our study were convinced that they (had) accurately understood the tone of an email message when, in fact, their odds (were) no better than chance.”
Telephone and Email Negotiation – The Research
Research has identified a collection of challenges to negotiating via telephone and email:
  • Parties communicating via telephone were found to be prone to more distrust, competition, and contentious behavior than those in comparable face-to-face interactions
  • Email negotiators rely more heavily on logical argumentation and the presentation of facts, rather than emotional or personal appeals
  • Email communicators are more task-orientated and depersonalized than those engaged in face-to-face interactions.
  • Information exchanged in email tends to be less nuanced than information exchanged face-to-face and the elimination of important back-channel and clarifying information such as speech acknowledgements (“OK”, “Uh-Huh” or Huh?”) compound this.
  • E-communication tends to be less inhibited than face-to-face communication due to physical distance, reduced social presence, reduced accountability and a sense of anonymity
  • The lack of social cues in e-communication causes people to act more contentiously than they do in face-to-face encounters, resulting in more frequent occurrences of swearing, name calling, insults and hostile behavior.
  • Email communicators trust their counterparts less than negotiators in similar face-to-face interactions – at all stages of the process.
  • E-negotiators are more likely to suspect their opposite of lying, even when no deception has taken place.
Face-to-face communication is synchronous and co-temporal.  Each party receives an utterance just as it is produced; as a result, speaking “turns” tend to occur sequentially.  Email is typically asynchronous: negotiators can read and respond to others’ messages whenever they desire – and not necessarily sequentially.  Minutes, hours or even weeks can pass between the time a negotiators sends a message and the time their counterpart reads it, and reading messages out of order is a common cause of misunderstandings”
Noam Ebner
Assistant Professor
Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution
As if negotiating in a demanding modern commercial world wasn’t already challenging enough the research shows that negotiating via email and telephone makes it even tougher!
The content of this post so far has been included with the intent of making negotiators pay very close attention to the problems, pitfalls and challenges of negotiating via the “leaner” medium of the telephone and email.
So let us now look at what we can do to maximize our chances of success when negotiating via the telephone and email.

  • Build rapport by matching the voice pace and tone of the other party.
  • Consider sending an agenda for the telephone by email in advance, put a frame around the negotiation and detail the areas for discussion (pay careful attention to the order of the agenda as many people have a tendency to address issues sequentially).
  • Take the time at the beginning of a negotiation and during it for light conversation and “small talk”.
  • Listen to any voicemail message twice before responding. Then pause and consider an appropriate response.
  • Clarify more often than you would do in face-to-face negotiations.
  • Summarize more regularly than you would do in face-to-face negotiations.
  • Minimize distractions – turn off your computer monitor, move to a quiet office if possible.
  • Concentrate fully on listening carefully to the other person – you are missing the visual input and only have the auditory input so you must focus 100% of your attention on the other person.
  • Whenever possible initiate the telephone call to the other person. If they call you unexpectedly ask if you can call them back.  This allows you to be fully prepared and in control.
  • Do not skimp on your planning and preparation just because you are negotiating over the telephone. Use a negotiation planning template that captures your objectives, limits, needs, possible concessions, walk away points in etc in writing.
  • Promptly transcribe your notes after each call. In telephone negotiations, you have one less sense for your memory to depend upon.  As you speak on the telephone you will probably make some notes.  Type or write them up as soon as you can after the call into a structured format.  Otherwise they may not make sense tomorrow!
  • Send a summary of what you have agreed over the phone to the other party by email. Ask the other party to confirm that they are in agreement with what is contained within the summary e.g. “This is my understanding of what we have agreed to. If this is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know within 24 hours.”
  • Make extra efforts to establish rapport – share personal information and make yourself human, present and real to the other person. It is possible to engage in the email equivalent of “small talk”.
  • Make sure you start and finish your email using socially orientated text e.g. “Dear Carole, Hope you are well / Hope you had a nice weekend etc”, “Looking forward to working with you on this. Kind Regards Simon”
  • Remember that you are dealing with a human being and not an email inbox.
  • Read any received email at least twice and pause to think before sending an angry reply. If time allows save your email as a draft and return to it some time later and read it again before sending it.  Tit for tat emails can very easily trigger and attack and defend spiral.  They are described as “spirals” as the relationship and your chance of concluding a successful deal can spiral downwards very quickly!
  • Take advantage of the time that email gives you (in a telephone or face-to-negotiation you will usually need to respond swiftly) to reflect on the content and tone of your emails.
  • Be clear and concise but not terse. People often “skim” emails when reading them so get to the point.
  • Use interest-related language (“I am very interested in securing a long term working arrangement”) frequently when discussing your position and inquiring about theirs (“What would be the priority for you when considering this contract?”)
  • Use empathetic language such as “I do appreciate your position”, “I understand how you feel” to build emotional connection.
  • Use positive, co-operative language as this will maximize your chances of reaching a successful outcome.
  • Bridge time gaps by creating the experience of an uninterrupted conversation. For example, “As I mentioned in my last email…”
  • Ask more clarifying questions – research shows e-negotiators ask less than face-to-face negotiators and therefore have less clarity on what the other side is looking for than they should have.
  • Add more detail than you normally would – e.g. what you are feeling (if you are disappointed, positive etc), what assumptions you are making etc.
  • Summarize each email and ask the other party to confirm that they are in agreement with what is contained within the summary e.g. “This is my understanding of what we have agreed to. If this is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know within 24 hours.”
  • Remember that you do not know who else will see the content of your email – it could be shared far and wide. The emails you send are also potentially recorded and archived forever!
Other Positive Actions
  • Mix media if possible. Holding a preliminary face-to-face meeting before then moving to the medium of telephone / email can be very useful in establishing rapport, relationship and trust.
  • If you can use video conferencing or a VOIP service (such as Skype) – the visual impact of seeing each other (and the non-verbal context cues) can help with relationship and trust.
  • Don’t get stuck in the media – recognize situations where you need to pick up the telephone and call, or even meet in person. This can be a good thing to do if you believe that misunderstandings have occurred.
  • Be aware that waiting and delay can cause anxiety and increase suspicion. Be very clear about when you will respond so that any delay in replying is not misinterpreted e.g. as a lack of interest.  Provide regular contact.
  • Do not multi-task! Do not answer emails during telephone based negotiations or vice versa.
Multi-tasking brings with it a range of effects that are not helpful to successful negotiating.  For example people who multi-task:
  • Are not good at filtering out irrelevant information.
  • Are easily distracted.
  • Have low detail recall -the stress response from multi-tasking impairs your ability to form new memories.
  • Listen less successfully - one study showed that when people multi-tasked their listening ability dropped by 53%!
  • Distractions from multi-tasking rapidly exhaust your brain’s pre-frontal cortex (the executive decision making area) which impairs your decision making capability. 3 hours of activity that contains distractions from multi-tasking consumes as much energy as doing 6 to 7 hours of work.
Despite our belief that we are multi-tasking what is actually happening is that our brain is rapidly switching between the tasks and part of your brain is always somewhat focused on the task you’re not doing!
There are significant differences between negotiating face-to-face and over the telephone and via email.  The wise negotiator will be aware of these and manage them.
It is important to stress that certain principles of negotiation remain constant in spite of the medium through which they are conducted.  These include the vital importance of:
  • Planning and preparation
  • “Getting inside the other person’s head” and understanding their needs, wants, hopes and fears.
  • Gathering information (successful negotiators gather approximately twice as much information as they give and listen twice as much as they speak)
  • Asking direct and considered questions and listening (very) carefully to the response.
  • Clarifying, checking, testing assumptions and summarizing.
  • Making conditional proposals; “If you do this, then I will do that.”
I wish you every success with you negotiations whatever medium they take place by.

Good luck and good negotiating!

Simon Hazeldine MSc FinstSMM is an international speaker and consultant in the areas of sales, negotiation, performance leadership and applied neuroscience.

He is the bestselling author of five business books:
  • Neuro-Sell: How Neuroscience Can Power Your Sales Success
  • Bare Knuckle Selling
  • Bare Knuckle Negotiating
  • Bare Knuckle Customer Service
  • The Inner Winner

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1 comment:

  1. Great post! I find challenging at times to negotiate over the phone or email but when done right, you won't need to worry. Keep up the good work and I wish you all the best.-Chris Thompson