Negotiating Via E-mail?

Here’s what the research has turned up. E-mail negotiations:

* appear to take longer than face-to-face negotiations.
* provide less satisfaction than face-to-face negotiations.
* are perceived as less fair than face-to-face negotiations.
* are more impersonal, allowing less rapport to be established.
* are less diplomatic and often use blunt, misconstrued messages.
* lead to more deadlocks, misinterpretations, and mistrust.

It would be wise to adopt a few key negotiating techniques to help overcome some of these potential negotiation problems. The lack of a strong personal relationship with the other party is the big one. This can lead to hostility and a greater risk of deadlock.

Face-to-face negotiations provide an opportunity to ask many clarifying questions, build rapport, observe non-verbal indicators (i.e. body language) and tone of voice indicators. E-mail is good for transmitting factual information, but it’s not the best medium for observing or expressing feelings, attitude, emotions or tone. It is harder to get a feel for how strong the other person’s position is or how much pressure they’re under.

Best e-mail Negotiating Practices

1. Use a ‘blended’ negotiation. Start the negotiation with a personal telephone call. Talk informally and use this as an opportunity to plan your negotiation. As the negotiation proceeds, supplement your e-mails with an occasional ‘real time’ telephone call or actual face-to-face meeting.

2. In your e-mails share personal information about yourself and invest some time developing a personal relationship with the other party. Use ‘non-task’ chatting about personal items. Maybe e-mail pictures to each other so you can see what the other person looks like.

3. Establish some common areas of interest – same professional association, same college, lived in the same state or city, etc. Discover what you have in common. The more areas of common interest the better. This helps develop trust, encourages honesty and builds rapport.

4. Try using some ‘emoticons’ (symbols to express emotion). ;-) for wink, :-) for smile, :-I for indifference, or :-( for unhappy. !! can express anger, excitement, happiness as well as urgency – be careful.

5. Frequently summarize, list any concessions you have made and provide assurances: “What we have achieved so far….” “Susan, we’ve made great progress. . .”

6. Include positive signals and refer to the relationship: “Bob, thanks for your flexibility on this issue . . .”

7. E-mails provide a wonderful way to create a record of your negotiation. Build folders for your e-mail correspondence – remember the power of record keeping.

8. Be careful when replying and forwarding e-mails. Understand the power of copying to other people (i.e. other departments, management, team members). How much information are you forwarding (e.g. just your last e-mail, or the last seven e-mails and all associated replies and attachments)? Is this what you want to do?

9. One final test – do you want to press the send button? Is this what you want to say (i.e. proof read, is the tone right)? Ask yourself, can I wait until tomorrow to send this (i.e. it might be wise to think about it overnight)? Don’t shoot off a quick reply when you are angry. Most of us live to regret it.

E-mail negotiations are not inherently good or bad – just different than face-to-face negotiations. Since almost all of us use e-mail, we need to be careful not to let this medium impede the negotiating process.

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