Negotiating in the virtual realm

Posted on April 29, 2020
Negotiating in the virtual realm

The use of digital channels for business negotiations is not a new practice in today’s workplace, but it’s never been a mandatory requirement until now.

Any negotiator who planned a meeting months ago and expected a boardroom setting has been thrown a curve ball, given the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Not everyone is well-rehearsed in the virtual realm, especially when it comes to sensitive negotiations or difficult conversations with business colleagues or employees. Most negotiators prefer in-person meetings. But in these challenging times, everyone has to be flexible and adjust to remote work.

Mitigating the tension of high stakes negotiations and reading people’s emotions are acquired skills for negotiators. They still apply in videoconferencing; but there are other factors to consider, too, in order to achieve optimal results in negotiations on a video conferencing platform. Here are some recommendations to follow.

Don’t Rush the Meeting

It is tempting for meeting leaders to want to “get it over with” and skip small talk and formalities. Starting with some lightweight conversation and introductions will let people adjust to the meeting mindset and give a negotiator a chance to better read the emotions and mental states of all the attendees. Speaking in a relaxed, unhurried manner will allow everyone to hear better and lessen tension. In these stressful times of quarantine, some people at the meeting might have come directly from an argument with a spouse or a discipline problem with a child. They will need some transition time to make the adjustment to the meeting agenda.

Communication Skills Still Matter

As every negotiator knows, body language is a big factor in communication. Eye contact is difficult in video conferencing because the camera is located above the screen. To compensate for this, it is a good idea to position the web camera from the waist up, so people can see hand gestures and not just a head and shoulders. A meeting leader sets the tone by speaking with good volume, expressiveness and enunciation. The rules of effective communication still apply, such as showing engagement and giving cues that one is listening attentively like nodding and asking questions.

Do Extra Preparation

One of the benefits of video conferencing is that meeting participants can refer to notes and other source material discreetly. Keeping a list of main points and other information nearby to glance at can help. When sending the formal meeting invitation to participants, let them know what is expected; request that they enable their web cameras (prevents multi-tasking!), and ensure that the meeting can proceed without noise interference or other disturbances. The agenda should be extra detailed so there is no confusion about whose turn it is to speak or what is being covered at a given time. Videoconferencing will usually take longer than expected due to “technology friction”, and it can be more stressful than in-person meetings, as people feel they can’t leave the virtual “table”. Let everyone know that breakout sessions between members will also be allowed during the conference. Particularly if contentious issues arise, some time out will be beneficial.

Virtual meetings and negotiation through digital channels will only become more commonplace in the future. Successful negotiations through the digital lens can be a different experience for businesspeople, who may need to complement their existing skills in negotiation and influence techniques. An excellent option for this is Schulich ExecEd’s new program, E-Negotiation: Essential Skills for Virtual Interactions which starts May 22.